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Renewables as soon as possible--renewable sources could provide a majority of the world's energy by 2050, if we have the political will.


Executive summary

This proposal calls on the world to meet all its energy needs from renewable sources as soon as possible. It is based on studies recently completed by the IPCC and researchers at Stanford and University of California Davis.


The beginning of this proposal was created by icarus, but help from other members of the community is very welcome.


This proposal advocates that the world shift to renewable energy sources as fast as possible.

An optimistic renewables scenario in the  Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2011 projects that renewables could provide 77 percent of global energy needs by the year 2050.

And in a November 2010 Scientific American article, Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford Mark A. Delucchi of University of California Davis outline an even more optimistic scenario, saying that renewables could provide 100 percent of the world's energy needs by 2030.

In Feb 2011 a report by WWF and Ecofys shows that all of the world’s energy needs could be provided cleanly, renewably and economically; 100% renewable energy by 2050.

This proposal uses the more conservative IPCC scenario as the basis for model settings that appear in "Actions and Impacts," with the advanced countries achieving 75% emission reduction by 2050 and developing countries a 75% reduction by 2070.

But to demonstrate the feasibility of this approach, several key points that buttress the more aggressive Jaconbson and Delucchi renewables scenario are listed below.

Jacobson and Delucchi note the the world is projected to need 17 terrwatts of energy by 2030. If we shifted to renewables, which would include a full electrification of transportation, the energy needed would be only 11.5 terawatts, because of the greater efficiency of electric vehicles (gasoline-powered vehicles waste 80 percent or more of the energy in gasoline, while electric vehicles waste only 15-20 percent of the energy).

Jacobson and Delucchi project that 50 percent of world's 11.5 terawatt energy needs in 2030 could be met by wind, 40 percent by solar, and 10 percenty by hydro (nearly three-quarters of the needed hydro is already in place).

The global wind and solar resources are more than adequate. The accessible wind resource is projected at 580 terawatts and accessible solar at 40-58 terawatts.

The problem of intermittency with wind and solar can be addressed by using geothermal or wave sources to provide baseline power or by linking wind farms at different locations.

By 2020 costs for renewables are projected to be competitive, with wind, wave, and hydro at 4 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) and solar at 10 cents per kWh, as compared to projected 2020 costs of 8 cents per kWh for fossil fuels.

The investment required to transitioning to renewables will be high, estimated at $100 trillion in all. But even if we don't make the shift, we will already be investing $10 trillion on fossil fuel infrastructure to meet new energy needs through 2030. Better to bite the bullet now and invest for the future.

For more details on Jacobson and Delucchi's ideas, the paper on which their Scientific American article was based is available at

In 2011, these authors also published a two part article in the journal Energy Policy. Part 1 is available at and part 2 at 

Why: Rationale for the proposal

Use of renewables avoids the problems associated with other no-carbon forms of energy: no need for long term waste storage and avoidance of weapons proliferation, which are problems with nuclear; and no need to test and deploy an entirely new technology or find massive reservoirs to store captured carbon, which are problems with carbon capture and sequestration. There also would be no fuel costs. 

How: Feasibility of proposal

The biggest challenge will be getting political support for the transition, especially since many powerful incumbent industries will be threatened by a move away from fossil fuels. There are also much grassroots activism against for example wind turbines. And 'decoy' technologies such as nuclear and waste incineration benefit from the popular narrow 'low carbon' perspective. Ideas from other community members for how to do make the transition to renewables politically feasible are very welcome.

There is one example of a country that has almost entirely made this transition. After the oil shocks of the 1970s, Iceland invested in developing its geothermal resources to reduce its dependence on imported energy. In 2009, hydro and geothermal accounted for 85 percent of the energy used in Iceland, with oil and coal accounting for only 15 percent. For details, see

This proposal is highly compatible with another proposal in the CoLab, Fix the system not the symptom, which provides the economic corrections needed for all energy sources to account for their externalities - so favouring renewables and phasing out fossil fuels and other highly-waste dependent sources. The correction changes the way that economies seek growth so that future growth can come from building (rather than destroying) the resources needed for the future. This provides political impetus for renewables, especially given the precarious condition of economics-as-usual. 

Vision of the future under this proposal

By 2030, a world with no smog and no wars over access to fossil fuels.