Scientists sketch roadmap for 139 countries to go 100% renewable by 2050

A research team at Stanford University has outlined a new roadmap for 139 countries - including the UK - to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2050, which it claims would avoid 1.5C global warming and prevent millions of premature deaths from air pollution.

Research scientists have put forward a “technically and economically feasible” vision to deliver all electricity with wind, water and solar power, and to electrify all energy sectors including transport, heating, industry and agriculture.

According to the study, the transition could create 24.3 million new full-time jobs in the renewables sector, save $25.5trn a year in climate costs and avoid 4-7 million premature air-pollution related deaths each year.

“It appears we can achieve the enormous social benefits of a zero-emission energy system at essentially no extra cost,” University of California research scientist and co-author Mark Delucchi said. “Our findings suggest that the benefits are so great that we should accelerate the transition to wind, water and solar as fast as possible, by retiring fossil fuel systems early wherever we can.”

2050 roadmap

The roadmap focuses on 70% of the world’s nations which produce more than 99% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and is based on analysis of raw renewable resource availability, and the quantity of wind, water and solar energy generators required by each country to achieve the transition. It also calculates the amount of land and rooftop areas ssuch power sources would need.

Transitioning to 100% renewables would reduce power disruption, increase access to decentralised energy and stabilise energy prices, according to research. The scientists suggest that clean infrastructure would cost a quarter of the current fossil fuel system.

The elimination of oil, gas and uranium use for mining and transport could reduce international power demand by 13%, according to the study, while the increased efficiency of electricity over burning fossil fuels is predicted to reduce demand by another 23%.

The paper suggests that areas with greater land-to-population ratios, such as the US, EU and China, have an easier pathway to renewable dependence than densely populated nations surrounded by oceans, such as Singapore.

“Both individuals and governments can lead this change,” said Stanford University researcher and co-author Mark Jacobson. “Policymakers don’t usually want to commit to doing something unless there is some reasonable science that can show it is possible, and that is what we are trying to do.”

UK leadership?

The nature of the UK’s own long-term transition to a low-carbon economy could hinge on the outcome of the Government’s Clean Growth Plan, which will outline the country’s bid to limit annual emissions to 57% below 1990 levels by the year 2032. The document, set to be revealed in September, has suffered from a series of delays due to political distractions such as Brexit negotiations and the General Election.

A separate report released today claims that the UK’s leadership role in the green economy is “far from guaranteed” due to these setbacks. Published by the Greener UK coalition, the report highlights some alarming green economy trends that it believes should be addressed. Analysis notes that investment into renewables in the UK will peak at £6.2bn next year. The report warns that without clear policy guidance, this could fall by 95% to less than £0.3bn by 2021.

George Ogleby

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