Can The Empire State Go Green? New Study Says New York State Can Be 100% Renewable By 2050

A new study out of Stanford University, scheduled to be published in the journal Energy Policy, argues that New York State can eliminate fossil fuels from its energy mix entirely by 2050.

Written by Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi — who helped produce a similar plan for the world as a whole in 2009 — along with several other coworkers, the report suggests that New York State’s end-use power could be supplied by a mix of various forms of solar, wind power, and water-based and geothermal sources. That goal could be met as early as 2030, and all conventional fossil fuel generation would be phased out no later than 2050.

On the demand-side of the ledger, because renewables generally deliver power more efficiently — electric cars lose far less energy to waste heat than standard combustion engines, for example — the state’s end-use demand would be cut by roughly 37 percent. Efficiency updates would to buildings, infrastructure, etc. would make up the rest of the gap. By the report’s analysis, this would all cut the United State’s climate costs by about $3.2 billion a year by 2050.

The major points of the plan are:

Replace all fossil fuel electricity with solar, wind, and other renewables. This would include mostly offshore wind and some onshore, together supplying about half the state’s energy needs. Standard solar arrays and concentrated solar power systems, plus wide deployment of residential rooftop solar (a goal already getting a boost from third-party leasing, among other things) as well as commercial and governmental rooftop solar, would deliver another 38 percent of the state’s energy. A mix of hydroelectric, wave, tidal, and geothermal would fill in the rest. The offshore wind would arguably be the most dramatic project, requiring an area of ocean surface equivalent to about 4.6 percent of New York State’s land area.

Replace all combustion-driven transportation with electricity and hydrogen. Standard passenger cars would go electric, while most larger road vehicles, non-road machines, ships, and trains would be driven by hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen combustion. Electricity and ground sources would provide heating and air conditioning, and electricity and hydrogen combustion would power industrial processes.

Efficiency retrofits to reduce energy demand. Residential, commercial, institutional, and government buildings would be updated with improved insulation, lighting, and heat and filtration systems. Solar power would be more broadly used for lighting, water heating, and passive seasonal heating and cooling. Future infrastructure would be framed towards encouraging public transit use and telecommuting.

Delucchi went into more detail with NY Times blogger Andrew Revkin on how the study’s authors think these goals could be hit in practical terms.

The plan also involves deploying a smart grid to manage these various energy sources, as well as integrating weather forecasting into operations. The researchers chose not to include natural gas since it remains an emitter of carbon dioxide and methane, and because the extraction of natural gas remains highly carbon-intensive. More interestingly, they decided not to include biofuels either, due to their inefficiency in comparison to electricity for transportation, the high land-use required to grow either corn or cellulosic feedstocks in comparison to land-use of wind, and because the agricultural production of biofuel crops offsets a lot of the carbon reduction and creates other pollution.

According to Stacy Clark at HuffPost, Jacobson estimated the total cost for the project at $600 billion — no small ask. However, Jacobson and his co-authors also estimate the project would create 4.5 million jobs during construction, and maintain 58,000 permanent jobs thereafter. Using rough metric’s economists have developed for estimating the financial value of a human life, as well as the costs to New York State from deaths due to pollution-induced illnesses, they also estimate the project would pay for itself in 17 years.

Let’s get started.

13 Responses to Can The Empire State Go Green? New Study Says New York State Can Be 100% Renewable By 2050

  1. Robert in New Orleans says:

    I know this sounds cynical, but these projections have certain utopian future sound (aka pie in the sky) to them and ignore the real possibility that New York State in 2050 will be dealing with the enormous crush of climate refugees from southern states and a sea level that is rising multiple inches per year.

  2. Joan Savage says:

    The Stanford study didn’t have much to say about existing energy-efficient transport in New York, namely rail and canal, other than to recommend electric boats for “local shipping.”

    Modification of New York’s commercial transport corridors to rely on more sustainable energy seems at least technically possible. Perhaps the 2050 time line could be part of why it was not emphasized.

  3. Joan Savage says:

    My mistake. I went directly to the Stanford article and searched for rail and canal, which didn’t produce hits. As Jeff Spross points out, they propose to shift to hydrogen fuel for shipping.

    However, it seems we have a ways to go from a miniature prototype up to engines that operate 2000 ton barges or rail engines on a standard gauge track.

    Prototype news:

    So I’d like to see a “Meanwhile what we can do” about making rail and barge systems more efficient. — Smoother rails, tempered to handle higher temperatures, come to mind.

  4. rollin says:

    It is extremely difficult to predict the future, especially now with many predicaments coming together. However, one thing that is clear from the graph is the planned demand destruction of over 50% to make this work.

  5. Camburn says:

    BNSF is already starting a pilot project to use Natural Gas.

    Hydrogen has so many problems with storage, metal fatigue, etc ….etc. That it is not a viable fuel.

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Yes, 2050 will be way too late, I believe, but at least the idea is gaining currency. I think that, once deployment is taken seriously, and the weather and climate disasters mount, the process will be quickly accelerated, but only if and when the power of the genocidal fossil fuel interests and the morally insane Right is crushed, once and forever. That is the absolutely critical precondition.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    They still show ‘demand’ increasing, perhaps to appease the ‘growth at all costs’ metastases. Demand must level off, then slowly fall away if we are not simply to create yet new crises of over-consumption on the finite planet.

  8. Bob Lang says:

    The conclusions reached in this report do not represent a consensus view on this subject.

  9. Phil W says:

    Demand destruction is associated with a lower level of economic activity associated with constrained supply of, in this case, energy.

    That does not apply here. In fact, it is far more probable that the transition to renewable energy infrastructure will be a tremendous boon to economic activity.

  10. Phil W says:

    I see a distinct reduction in demand as a result of improvements in end use energy efficiency and the improved efficiency of moving away from the losses associated with thermal generation.
    The “projected demand” curve is where we could be expected to be if we continue with the inefficiencies of the present system.

  11. Phil W says:

    I’m fairly sure they do. Unless, of course, you are asking those with a vested interest in the present system.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    What!!?? Do Rupert Murdoch, the Grand High Poobah Monckhausen and Chris Mitchell not concur? We are undone!

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Improvements in efficiency are essential, but we also need a reduction in consumption of meaningless crap. It means undermining the capitalist system, which, like a cancer, must grow and grow, but, what the heck! A steady-state capitalism would be like a very low-grade tumour, perhaps just a cyst, but we need to excise it completely. The exigencies of implosion under the weight of debt and inequality have forced the financial panjandrums to virtually abolish interest on debt, so the next step is plainly a Global Jubilee of debt forgiveness, followed by the establishment of an economic order based on slow and humane reduction in consumption, population and production, and, consequently, on damage to our life-sustaining biospheres. It’s the only way out.