The United States is at a power generation and distribution crossroads. The electrical infrastructure and pipeline distribution systems are antiquated, which is resulting in an increasing number of failures resulting in power outages and leaks. It’s time to rethink the long term power generation and distribution strategy.
Some Assembly Required
In 2016, the United States invested $58.6 billion in renewable energy1. This investment resulted in renewable energy generating 63% of new energy generation capacity for the year according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration2.
What would it take to convert the United States to 100% renewable energy?
Organizations like The Solutions Project are pushing for 80% of power to be renewable energies by 2030 and 100% by 2050. Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson and other researchers have teamed up to produce their 2050 plan for the United States as well as 138 other nations3.
The current land requirements for power generation total about .768% of all land in the United States3. Jacobson’s plan would require about 1.81% of the land in the United States or 68,725 square miles4. How much land has coal production disturbed to date? An estimated 131,250 square miles5.
A project of this scale would create about 3.9 million 40-year construction jobs and 20 million 40-year operation jobs, offsetting the roughly 3.9 million jobs lost from the conventional energy sector during the conversion3.
The United States must invest in mass transit and become less dependent on the hyper-individualistic passenger car for it’s primary transportation means. For those that retain their personal vehicles, a transition to non-gasoline powered vehicles will need to take place. New charging stations will need to be built nationwide.
About $13.4 trillion in up-front capital costs3. Renewable energy currently accounts for about 16% of all power generated in the United States. Converting the remaining 84% will cost about $406 billion/year through 2050. Recall that the United States spent $58.6 billion on renewable energy in 2016.
A savings of an estimated 63,000 American lives per year from a reduction in air pollution and the “elimination of greenhouse gases produced from fossil fuels, which would otherwise cost the world $3.3 trillion a year by 2050” according to Jacobson3. National Geographic estimates a savings of $8,019/year/person in healthcare costs from the reduction in pollution alone4.
Generating new power isn’t the only solution in this plan. Pushing energy efficiency to reduce energy demand and building a nationwide ultra high voltage (UHV) grid to decrease power distribution loss are important steps to ensuring the United States has a clean, consistent supply of energy and a stable distribution infrastructure6.
1 Phys.org. 2017. Renewable energy investment fell 18% in 2016: study.
2 Marcy. 2017. Renewable generation capacity expected to account for most 2016 capacity additions. U.S. Energy Information Administration.
3 Jacobson, Delucchi, Bazouin, Bauer, et al. 2015. 100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for 50 United States. Energy & Environmental Science., 2015, 8, 2093.
4 National Geographic. A Blueprint for a Carbon-Free World.
5 Sourcewatch. 2015. Large coal mines.
6 Gallego. 2016. China Wants to Build a $50 Trillion Global Wind & Solar Power Grid by 2050. Futurism.