How New York State Could be Entirely Renewable by 2050

Update: For more about The Solutions Project (links, videos, how to get our free postcards for your next meeting) click here after you read below.  Here at Sane Energy Project, we are big fans of the Stanford University studies on renewable energy. Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi had  already published a 2009 study, showing how the entire world could run on renewable energy by 2030. Now, Professor Jacobson has published–together with Robert Howarth, Mark Delucchi, Jannette  Barth, and others–a new study that outlines how New York State can convert solely to wind, water and solar power by 2050. A video summary of the study can be viewed here.

The plan is essentially a recipe of what proportion of power would come from each source, and how many megawatts would be supplied by how many wind turbines, solar panels, et cetera. The state is already very hydro-heavy. Of the hydro, 89% of what's needed already exists, and the remaining 11% could be developed along existing pathways, so the theory is that environmental disruption would be minimal. Because wind remains so much cheaper to build than solar, the largest proportion of new installations would be turbines, primarily offshore. Solar and geothermal make up the balance. The proportions break down as follows:

NYS plan mapWind: 40% offshore; 10% onshore Water: 5.5% hydro; 1% tidal; 0.5% wave Solar: 10% concentrated solar plants; 10% solar-pv plants; 6% residential rooftop; 12% commercial/governmental rooftop Geothermal: 5%

The map at left shows the relative footprint of each source. The exact number of total installations needed are as follows:

  • 12,770  offshore 5-mw wind turbines
  • 4,020  onshore 5-mw wind turbines
  • 387  100-mw concentrated solar plants
  • 828  50-mw photovoltaic power plants
  • 5 million  5-kw residential rooftop photovoltaic systems
  • 500,000  100-kw commercial/government rooftop photovoltaic systems
  • 1,910  0.75-mw wave devices
  • 2,600  1-mw tidal turbines
  • 7  1,300-mw hydroelectric power plants, of which most already exist
  • 36  100-mw geothermal plants

Other big strokes: Because (just as with electric cars) renewable (electric) energy is so much more efficient than combustion-based energies, the plan would actually reduce the state's energy demands by 37%. It would also create more jobs than it would reduce because all the energy would be produced in state–and these are not boom and bust jobs like hydrofracking.  Naturally, the state's costs from health and mortality from air pollution would be greatly reduced, by $33 billion and 4000 deaths annually (hard to believe we tolerate those numbers now). The installation costs would repay themselves within 17 years, before accounting for sales of electricity.

Sound good? It sure does to us. The plan is not without its critics, and can expect stiff resistance from naysayers. Even we take issue with the prohibition on biodiesel, which we feel is a viable transition fuel for NYC boilers, while we convert to a fully electric system. But the first step in making system change is imagining the change, and this is a very precise picture Professor Jacobson has drawn.