Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 28, 2015

 Zero carbon emissions by 2050 with no economic downsides

A new paper by Jacobson et al. of Stanford University demonstrates how all of the energy needed to support our present standard of living in the USA could be provided by alternate, non-carbon-based sources of energy even without assistance by nuclear reactors by the year 2050, only 35 years ahead.  Note that this includes ALL ENERGY needed for heating and cooling, electricity, and transport – thereby bringing CO2 emissions to near zero. In addition, the financial benefits of following this course would outweigh those associated with our continued use of fossil fuels for energy production.  The entire paper can be seen at

The paper begins with the following statement of its broader context:

“This paper presents a consistent set of roadmaps for converting the energy infrastructures of each of the 50 United States to 100% wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) for all purposes (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry) by 2050. Such conversions are obtained by first projecting conventional power demand to 2050 in each sector then electrifying the sector, assuming the use of some electrolytic hydrogen in transportation and industry and applying modest end-use energy efficiency improvements. Such state conversions may reduce conventional 2050 U.S.-averaged power demand by B39%, with most reductions due to the efficiency of electricity over combustion and the rest due to modest end-use energy efficiency improvements. The conversions are found to be technically and economically feasible with little downside. They nearly eliminate energy-related U.S. air pollution and climate-relevant emissions and their resulting health and environmental costs while creating jobs, stabilizing energy prices, and minimizing land requirements. These benefits have not previously been quantified for the 50 states. Their elucidation may reduce the social and political barriers to implementing clean-energy policies for replacing conventional combustible and nuclear fuels. Several such policies are proposed herein for each energy sector.”

And the paper ends with this summary:

“Based on the scientific results presented, current barriers to implementing the roadmaps are neither technical nor economic. As such, they must be social and political. Such barriers are due partly to the fact that most people are unaware of what changes are possible and how they will benefit from them and partly to the fact that many with a financial interest in the current energy industry resist change. However, because the benefits of converting (reduced global warming and air pollution; new jobs and stable energy prices) far exceed the costs, converting has little downside. This study elucidates the net benefits and quantifies what is possible thus should reduce social and political barriers to implementing the roadmaps.”

Looks as though the only question is – will human beings prove to be smart enough to take a course of action that will be beneficial in all regards – financially, environmentally, and morally – or will they blindly continue their fatal addiction to the 6th element in the Periodic Table?


  1. Eric, Thanks for drawing attention to this paper. Such an energy transition is monumental in its scope and potentially disruptive in the 30-year transition period. Such a change requires a firm national will, a viable version of which Germany seems to have found. But then we have interviews like that with Roy Spencer ( that helps to degrade any hope for a national consensus.

    Market forces will eventually prevail and drive such an energy conversion, as the cost of increasingly depleted reduced carbon skyrockets in, say, 30-50 years. (I saw that BP estimated about 50-55 years of oil and natural gas remaining – google it for details) But we will burn alot of carbon in the meantime. IMO, the best hope is rapid and repeated demonstration that green energy is economically more viable.


  2. Owen,

    The details on which we might differ concern our absolute need for URGENT action. Perhaps you agree that we cannot afford to wait for oil prices to rise whenever we do run out of gas and oil? With the background CO2 level presently at 400 ppm – up 120 from the pre Industrial age level of 280, we can not afford to add another 120 or more by burning the rest of our gas and oil as well as using some of our almost unlimited amounts of coal. 400 ppm CO2 might turn out to be a killer and 520 ppm certainly would. We need to get onto alternate sources of energy and leave fossil fuels in the ground.

    While the forces of the business as usual market are, indeed, very strong and might win out, it is now clear that our descendants will pay dearly for that outcome if it occurs. And that outcome is not necessary. Why not take another route such as that described in this post?

    In many of my other previous posts, I have also addressed this urgency issue. Find a list of titles by hitting the “authors blog” tab. See the one, for instance, entitled “It our cumulative emissions”

    Good the hear from you, Owen, and thanks for your comments. I think we are on the same page concerning the reality of AGW and hope that we are concerning the urgent need for immediate action – and NOT allowing BasU to continue.


    • Eric,

      Actually, it was my lament that we probably will have to wait for market forces to effect the energy transition. At the present time, I just don’t see in America the national will to tackle the transition.

      But I am encouraged that the authors of the study are convinced that it is technically possible to go entirely to renewable, non-carbon sources.


  3. On the state level, however, I see more hope. Not however with the national politicians. See:

  4. Owen, As I related in my second to last post, my present hope is that President Obama will use ongoing bad news concerning climate change to get to where I think his heart and mind are – just as Lincoln used the Civil War to very rapidly get himself to where his heart and mind was – complete abolition. All of this ASAP – if not by the end of his term then under the continuing leadership of his Democratic successor. Yes, and as Frau Sovik taught us “aller anfung ist schwer”,


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