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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.

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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.