A Fantastic Future is Possible

Chapter Two of Climate Warrior, “Begin with the End in Mind”, is devoted to my vision of the bright energy future that we can and must build. This vision is of a livable planet with climate change finally tamed, less air pollution, less noise pollution, a more peaceful and prosperous world, and a sustainable world where we spend less on energy. This is a dream we can make a reality.

Chapter Seven, “A Vision of Energy Future by 2050”, and later chapters dig into the details of what that future will look like. Many of the proposals are inspired by the work of Professor Mark Jacobson at Stanford, and others who are studying the future energy system. Jacobson’s latest paper about the future of the U.S. energy system provides additional support for the benefit of a renewable energy future.

The paper is “A Solution to Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Insecurity for the United States” by Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University, 2021, and you can view it here.

While I’ll summarize it for you, it is well worth a read. The paper presents the results of a detailed modeling analysis of the U.S. energy system with the assumption that all of today’s energy uses are satisfied by electricity (with biofuels and renewable hydrogen playing a small role) or heat from solar or geothermal sources. Furthermore, all the electricity is provided from renewable sources such that the system has zero carbon emissions! The system is designed to meet a rigorous set of tests to make sure it can meet electric load at every hour and in every weather scenario.

Two years of actual weather data is used to make sure everything works reliably and it does!

This study summarizes a remarkable future energy system that uses much less energy than the system we have today. But this isn’t a system of compromised living standards at all, no “virtuous conservation” is assumed. Living standards are as they are today, or better. How can we use so much less energy? First, we must have active public policy to increase energy efficiency, but that is just a small part. A larger part is that we will no longer need the extreme amount of energy we use to mine, drill, or refine fossil fuels. The biggest savings by far will come from the conversion of end-uses to electricity, which is far more efficient. This is true in all sectors, but especially with electric vehicles in the transportation sector. All in all, the energy system of 2050 will use less than half of the energy used today, although to meet the remaining energy need, the electric system will more than double.

This future electric energy system will be dominated by solar and wind energy, with solar having the greatest capacity at 2.9 TW (vs wind at 1.9 TW), but wind will produce the most energy (almost 50%). The system will require 2.7 TW of battery storage, along with smaller amounts of other types of storage. After many hours, renewables produce more energy than needed, with the excess being stored. At a certain point, renewables produce more than can be stored, and that is part of the design. It’s cheaper to build more than you can store than it is to store it all. And the marvel of this future energy system is that it will be completely reliable at all hours!

AND IT IS ALSO CHEAPER! Jacobson finds that this future energy system will lower overall energy costs by 66% versus that of today. And that doesn’t include the benefits for the climate, for health, and for national security. When you factor in those other benefits, the renewable energy system of the future saves 88% versus continuing business as usual.

It’s an amazing future indeed! Let’s do it.