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Research: 100 Percent Wind, Water, Solar Power Possible by 2050

A new analysis finds Virginia could shift to 100 percent wind, water and solar power by 2050. Credit: The Solutions Project
A new analysis finds Virginia could shift to 100 percent wind, water and solar power by 2050. Credit: The Solutions Project
November 30, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. – All 50 states and 139 countries can shift to 100 percent wind, water and solar power by 2050, according to a new analysis from Stanford University.

The research shows that, factoring in the health and climate-related costs of air pollution, the transition would save money and spark more employment.

Stanford engineering professor Mark Jacobson says when all costs are included, wind is now the cheapest energy source in the U.S. – even without subsidies – and solar is nearly as cheap.

Jacobson says that could mean faster economic growth.

"By transitioning, we'd create two million more jobs, both construction and permanent operation jobs, than we would lose," he maintains.

Critics of renewable energy argue it would raise the price of electricity. Jacobson says that's only true if you ignore the negative health impacts of air pollution.

According to the research, savings from reducing pollution could cover the cost of Virginia's transition in as little as four years.

Diplomats from around the world are in climate talks in Paris this week.

Electricity generated by an older coal plant can sell for as little as 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, in part because those facilities are paid for and have, until now, dodged some pollution rules.

But Jacobson says power from a newer coal plant with updated pollution controls is closer to 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 4 to 7 cents for wind or solar power.

Jacobson says there are some important costs that renewables avoid.

"Asthma, cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness,” he points out. “Climate problems getting worse, international conflicts growing because we still have fights over fuels that are overseas."

Jacobson says the analysis was done to show the transition is possible, both in terms of technology and the economy.

He adds people may not realize much of the change is already under way – in part, because using small scale methods like rooftop solar are cheaper than extending the power grid.

"Right now, there's a huge growth of electricity generation through solar, in Africa for example, where villages that previously had no access to energy now have access to photovoltaics," he stresses.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA