Yes, that’s correct, the world could be running completely on renewable energy by the year 2030. There are no technological obstacles preventing it. There are no economic obstacles preventing it. Well, if that’s the case, you’re likely saying, then what’s preventing it? The same thing that has prevented the world from going 100% renewable by 2000 or 2010 or any other year: political will. Without political will, we will remain stuck near the 13% (including biomass) we’re at today.
A study released by Mark Delucchi, of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California Davis, and Mark Jacobson, of the civil and environmental engineering department at Stanford University, adds to the growing body of literature demonstrating the feasibility of successfully undertaking an energy revolution within many of our lifetimes. It won’t be easy. Anybody who claims it will be easy has no idea what they’re talking about. It is feasible, but challenging. What would it take?
For instance, the world would need nearly 4 million wind turbines, and they’d be big ones—rated at 5 megawatts (MW). That’s two or three times the capacity of the majority of turbines on the market; 5 MW turbines were an innovation introduced offshore in Germany in 2006, and China just built its first 5 MW wind turbine last year.
The pair estimate that the world would need 90,000 large-scale solar plants, each with a capacity of about 300 MW—both those that rely on photovoltaic panels that make electricity directly, and concentrated solar power plants that focus the sun’s rays to boil water to drive electric generators. At present, fewer than three dozen such utility-scale solar plants are in operation worldwide; most are far smaller.
And the big solar systems wouldn’t displace the need for rooftop power; the researchers estimate a need for 1.7 billion 3-kilowatt solar PV systems as well. Think of that as one rooftop PV system for every four people on the planet.
Note that this study does not address energy generation and transmission issues. It simply lays out a case demonstrating some of the potential of renewable energy. More work is needed on generation and transmission. That work is currently underway. I have very little doubt that such work will come to many of the same conclusions: technical or economic obstacles do not present significant enough problems to prevent us from achieving the goals necessary to keep the climate recognizable and amenable to contemporary ecosystems. The only thing that will be missing – still – is the political will. What a silly thing to plunge the world into a new climate regime.