Sustainable Energy

The US could be completely powered by renewables by 2050: report

Luke Graham, special to CNBC
Solar panel installation on the roof of a home in Gainesville, Florida.
Getty Images

The U.S. could be completely powered by renewable energy by 2050, according to a report from Stanford University.

The report provides roadmaps for how all 50 states could convert their energy network to renewable sources, adding that the health, environmental and economic benefits from ditching fossil fuels would be considerable.

Renewable energy is competitive, despite oil volatility
Renewable energy is competitive, despite oil volatility

Mark Jacobson, director of Stanford University's atmosphere and energy program and the report's author, claims 100 percent conversion to renewable sources is "technically and economically feasible with little downside".

According to the model, published in the journal "Energy & Environmental Science", in 35 years' time the U.S. of would have replaced fossil fuels with wind, water and sunlight energy sources. Half the country's energy would be provided by on-shore and off-shore wind farms, while 45 percent would come from solar panels. Increased efficiency from improved technology and electrification would also reduce the amount of energy needed.

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In order to achieve 100 percent conversion, automobiles would need to be replaced with battery electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and hybrids.

Nuclear energy and biofuels would not be permitted in Jacobson's plans, because mining uranium for nuclear power plants requires fossil fuels, while burning biofuels still produces carbon emissions.

The report also claims the conversion would produce health and economic advantages. For instance, reducing air pollution would eliminate around 60,000-70,000 premature deaths in the U.S. per year, while around 6 million jobs in constructing and operating the new renewable energy facilities would be created (outweighing the roughly 4 million jobs lost in the conventional energy sector)

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However, the report has come under criticism. John Constable, director of Renewable Energy Foundation, told CNBC: "It's essentially fiction, and not a guide to the future. That is to say, its conclusions are implied by its premises, which are not necessarily realistic.

"If renewables were actually cheap and economically competitive and all the technical problems were solved they could drive the US economy, naturally. There has been no end of studies like this in Europe."

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