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Ditching Fossil Fuels and Switching to 100% Renewables No Problem, Says Stanford Study

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Is it possible for the U.S. to ditch fossil fuels? The answer is yes, according to researchers and engineers from Stanford University and U.C. Berkeley, who have developed a state-by-state plan to convert the country to 100 percent renewable energy in less than 40 years.

Stanford researchers have a developed 50-state roadmap to a clean, renewable energy future.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The study, published in the Energy and Environmental Sciences, showcases how each state can replace fossil fuels by tapping into renewable resources available in each state, such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and even small amounts of tidal and wave power.

The report, led by Stanford civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson and U.C. Berkeley researcher Mark Delucchi, argues that converting the current energy infrastructure into renewable energy will help fight climate change, save lives by eliminating air pollution, create jobs and also stabilize energy prices.

You can check out an interactive map summarizing the plans for each state at The Solutions Project, an organization of scientists, business leaders and other forward-thinking minds with a mission of accelerating the world's transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

The project's concept has attracted high-profile funders including the Elon Musk Foundation and Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, according to The Plaid Zebra.

The Elon Musk Foundation and Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation are helping to fund this project.

Board members of The Solutions Project include notable environmental advocates including filmmaker and founder of the the International WOW Company Josh Fox, co-founder and president of Mosaic Billy Parish, and actor and noted environmentalist Mark Ruffalo.

Undoubtedly, the plan involves a lot of difficult and expensive changes, but the authors believe that the complete transition to renewables is economically and technically viable.

"The main barriers are social, political and getting industries to change. One way to overcome the barriers is to inform people about what is possible," Jacobson said. "By showing that it's technologically and economically possible, this study could reduce the barriers to a large scale transformation."

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According to a news release, the study's authors examined each state's current energy usage in four sectors: residential, commercial, industrial and transportation. For each sector, they then analyzed the current amount and source of the fuel consumed—coal, oil, gas, nuclear and renewables—and calculated what the fuel demands would be if replaced with electricity. (This includes all the cars on the road becoming electric, as well as homes and businesses fully converting to electric heating and cooling systems). They then calculated how this new electric grid could be powered using only renewable energy resources available in each state.

"When we did this across all 50 states, we saw a 39 percent reduction in total end-use power demand by the year 2050," Jacobson said. "About 6 percentage points of that is gained through efficiency improvements to infrastructure, but the bulk is the result of replacing current sources and uses of combustion energy with electricity."

Check out South Carolina, for instance (you can see the infographics for the other 49 states here):

Not only is a fossil fuel-free South Carolina possible, doing so would create nearly 100,000 clean-energy jobs. Photo Credit: The Solutions Project

The good news is that several states are already on their way. For example, Washington state already meets 70 percent of its current electricity needs from existing hydroelectric sources.

Yes, the upfront cost of the massive conversion would be expensive, however the study's authors argue it would even out over time and the environmental benefits are clear.

"When you account for the health and climate costs—as well as the rising price of fossil fuels—wind, water and solar are half the cost of conventional systems," Jacobson said. "A conversion of this scale would also create jobs, stabilize fuel prices, reduce pollution-related health problems and eliminate emissions from the United States. There is very little downside to a conversion, at least based on this science."

Check out Jacobson's 2013 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, where he explains his plan of transitioning the country to clean energy.

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