Researchers outline how the world can transition to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050.
A storm surge strikes Porthleven, England, in October 2017. Credit: Tony Armstrong, CC BY-NC 2.0
Source: Earth’s Future

From more frequent wildfires to devastating hurricanes to persistent droughts, we are already seeing the effects of climate change. It’s not just the planet that’s at risk: Air pollution causes 4–7 million human deaths each year, and energy security is a concern as our population grows. Addressing these challenges will require a collective effort by individuals, communities, businesses, nonprofits, and policy makers around the world, not to mention a road map to guide these disparate parties.

Here Jacobson presents just such a road map. It outlines how the 139 countries that together contribute 99% of all global emissions can transition to 80% clean, renewable energy (water, wind, and solar) by 2030 and to 100% by 2050. By 2050, everything—transportation, agriculture, forestry, fishing, heating, cooling, and all industries—would run on electricity.

This road map does not include nuclear power, biofuels, or fossil fuels (even with the potential for carbon capture and sequestration) because the author finds them to offer less cost-benefit impact than wind, water, and solar. In addition, as stated in an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2014, the potential dangers of mining uranium, generating nuclear power, and disposing of nuclear waste are reason enough to abstain from pursuing nuclear as a source of energy.

The central idea of the road map is to electrify all sectors and to have all of this electricity come from wind, water, and solar while using the most-energy-efficient technology available. This would require onshore and offshore wind turbines, solar photovoltaics on rooftops and in power plants, concentrated solar power (using mirrors and lenses to reflect sunlight and collect solar heat to generate electricity), geothermal power, tidal and wave power, and existing hydroelectric dams. The plan also calls for electricity storage in solar cells, pumped hydroelectric power, batteries, and existing hydroelectric dams; heat storage in water, rocks, and cement; cold storage in water and ice; and hydrogen storage in tanks.

Implementing the plan outlined here would require massive public and private action, with cooperation at every level. Although this might sound daunting, a number of entities are already on board: Approximately 50 cities in North America and more than 100 businesses around the world have already pledged to transition. Many countries have increased their development of water, wind, and solar infrastructures. In 2015, Congress introduced legislation for the country as a whole, and several U.S. states have proposed or passed their own laws aiming for 100% clean, renewable energy in one or more sectors.

Ultimately, this road map outlines the feasibility of a transition that could have the potential to save lives, mitigate environmental damage, create jobs, stabilize energy prices, increase energy security, and improve access to power for billions of people. (Earth’s Future,, 2017)

—Sarah Witman, Freelance Writer


Witman, S. (2017), The power of water, wind, and solar (and nothing else), Eos, 98, Published on 28 December 2017.

Text © 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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