How many times this week have you read that renewable energy is unreliable, and will never be able to completely replace fossil fuels on the electrical grid? Well, there is at least one group of scientists who don’t agree.
A study led by Stanford University Professor Mark Jacobson has found that a US energy system running on wind, water and solar, coupled with storage, would avoid blackouts, lower energy requirements and consumer costs, create millions of jobs, improve public health and free up land.
The new study, published in the journal Renewable Energy, analyzed grid stability under multiple all-renewable scenarios. The researchers ran simulations for six individual states (Alaska, Hawaii, California, Texas, New York, and Florida), and also analyzed the interconnected electricity grid regions in the nation, and the contiguous US as a whole.
“This study is the first to examine grid stability in all US grid regions and many individual states after electrifying all energy and providing the electricity with only energy that is both clean and renewable,” said Jacobson. “This means no fossil fuels, carbon capture, direct air capture, bioenergy, blue hydrogen or nuclear power.”
The scenarios modeled a massive scale-up of offshore wind turbines and rooftop solar panels—none of which take up new land—as well as onshore wind turbines, utility-scale solar farms and concentrated solar power plants. They also included some new geothermal, but no new hydroelectric infrastructure.
The researchers found that, while decarbonizing transport and industry would more than double electricity usage, the shift to renewables would nevertheless reduce total end-use energy demand by around 57%. This could reduce average annual household energy costs by 63%.
Contrary to the unsubstantiated scare stories that the fossil-friendly crowd trots out in the wake of natural disasters, the Stanford team found that stabilizing the grid with renewable energy and storage in states such as California and Texas would actively prevent blackouts. This is partly due to the fact that energy requirements would be reduced by 60% in California and 57% in Texas by electrifying all energy sectors with renewable sources.
According to the study’s findings, the transition to a 100% renewable and storage grid could result in a net gain of some 4.7 million permanent jobs. The amount of land required would be between 0.29% and 0.55% of US land area, far less than the 1.3% occupied by the fossil fuel industry today. Cleaner air could spare approximately 53,200 people per year from pollution-related deaths, and save as much as $700 billion per year in health costs.