A graph from a study concluding that New York State can shift from fossil fuels to wind, solar and water power by 2050
March 13, 12:43 p.m. | Relevant tweets appended |
A group of scientists and energy analysts has laid out a path under which New York State could, in theory, eliminate its use of fossil fuels and nuclear power — including for transportation — by 2050. The graph above charts the contributions played by improved efficiency and adoption of renewable electricity sources as well as hydrogen fuel cells (with the hydrogen generated with renewable energy).
The plan, “Examining the Feasibility of Converting New York State’s All-Purpose Energy Infrastructure to One Using Wind, Water and Sunlight,” is slated for publication in the journal Energy Policy.
The analysis, predicated on the need to swiftly address global warming, essentially does for New York what two of the authors, Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University and Mark A. Delucchi of the University of California, Davis, did for the world in an energy roadmap published in Scientific American in 2009.
The paper argues against any role for natural gas, using arguments developed by two of its authors, Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth of Cornell University. Here’s one taste of what they’re calling for (from a news release):
According to the researchers’ calculations, New York’s 2030 power demand for all sectors (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry) could be met by:
4,020 onshore 5-megawatt wind turbines
12,770 offshore 5-megawatt wind turbines
387 100-megawatt concentrated solar plants
828 50-megawatt photovoltaic power plants
5 million 5-kilowatt residential rooftop photovoltaic systems
500,000 100-kilowatt commercial/government rooftop photovoltaic systems
36 100-megawatt geothermal plants
1,910 0.75-megawatt wave devices
2,600 1-megawatt tidal turbines
7 1,300-megawatt hydroelectric power plants, of which most exist
To me, the analysis works best as a thought experiment, given the monumental hurdles — economic, political, regulatory and technical — that would hinder such a shift.
In gauging the costs and benefits of various energy options, the authors include the costs from illness and death linked to pollution from fossil fuels. I’d love it if such indirect costs were integrated better into how decisions on energy policy were made. Therein lies some of the value of this kind of analysis.
But, like any good thought experiment, the paper raises a host of questions, including about its basic assumptions.
- Does New York State need — for its own sake or the environment’s — to be an energy island? A lot of economists, and environmental analysts, would say no.
- Does this team’s justification for such an abrupt shift in a state’s energy system and norms match the level of risk posed by human-driven climate change?
That’s a question that will always — with or without industry lobbying — get varied answers depending on competing priorities and differing perceptions of risk across society.
If you presume the answer is yes, that leads to specific questions about how to achieve such a transformation on the time scale they propose. (This is very reminiscent of discussions here of California’s ambitious 2050 targets for greenhouse gases.)
I’m engaged in a fruitful e-mail exchange with the authors. Read on for one of my questions, with the answer from Mark Delucchi of Davis (There’s more, but I have to teach and didn’t want to delay in getting the discussion started here).
On the energy end, how does your plan propose to get around the realities of built infrastructure today? Who puts up the money to retrofit buildings when, as New York City wrote in its energy plan, “Energy use in buildings accounts for 75 percent of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions, and 80 percent of the buildings that will exist in 2050 are already here today.”
I think there is nothing to “get around”. There are several general strategies for dealing with existing infrastructure, broadly defined.
1) Instead of upgrading, maintaining, and replacing deteriorating existing infrastructure, invest in new infrastructure. If we don’t appreciably accelerate retirement, there is no “extra” (early-retirement) cost to consider.
2) Retrofit and rebuild for maximum efficiency and minimum environmental impact. The correct basis for evaluating this economically is a full social lifetime cost-benefit analysis with a near-zero discount rate. On this basis, I believe that most improvements will be economical.
3) Electrify all sectors as rapidly as possible. In particular, create policies and physical plans that accommodate the electrification of transport. These policies and plans generally will not involve large-scale, rapid replacement of major infrastructure, but rather extensive but decentralized modifications and additions: charging stations; incentives for EV ownership, driving, and parking; mode shifting from heavy trucks to rail; port electrification; transportation and urban planning in support of electric transport, including transit and rail; etc.
4) Rapid expansion of micro WWS [wind, water, sunlight] generation and associated decentralized infrastructure: rooftop solar, micro-wind, V2G, smart grids. These are mainly upgrades and additions to infrastructure, rather than replacement. And again, the correct evaluation basis is full social cost-benefit analysis over the entire physical lifetime, at near-zero discount rate.
As you probably have seen, the Urban Green Council just came out with a report showing how NYC can reduce its carbon footprint 90 percent by 2050. I haven’t read the report carefully, but from what I’ve seen it is reasonable. I have excerpted from the abstract:
“This study focuses primarily on the building sector, the source of 75 percent of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions. Building simulation modeling using eight basic building types shows that heating and cooling loads can be dramatically reduced through air sealing, heat recovery ventilation, and additional insulation, to a point where all heating, cooling, and hot water can be provided by heat pumps. Analysi of the city’s building stock shows that the total electric load in 2050, which must be supplied by carbon-free sources, will be slightly more than today’s electric load. Contributions from rooftop photovoltaic panels will be significant. An initial analysis shows that over the period examined, and on the basis of today’s prices for both fuel and improvements, the savings from energy use reductions will be comparable to the costs of the building improvements. The total amount is affordable and will pay for itself over time if the cost of improvements falls as expected and fuel prices increase.
“In the transportation sector, electrification and expansion of both passenger and freight rail and conversion of on-road vehicles to electric drive, hybrids, and turbo diesels, coupled with the recently enacted CAFÉ standards, will allow total residual carbon emissions to drop well below 10 percent of today’s levels. Adding electricity generation from biogas derived from waste and sewage treatment provides an additional input of carbon-free power while consuming a potent greenhouse gas.
“Several unused alternatives, such as maintaining the district steam system on waste combustion, are discussed but were not incorporated in the analysis.
“Although not a blueprint or detailed plan for the next 37 years, ’90 by 50’ demonstrates that the extreme emission reductions required to minimize climate change are in fact possible using technologies that are known and in almost all cases currently available, and that the cost is within reasonable bounds.”