How world can go 100% renewables by 2050 – and save money | RenewEconomy

How world can go 100% renewables by 2050 – and save money

Stanford study says that 139 countries could power their economies with 100% renewable energy – wind, water and sunlight – by 2050, create millions of jobs and save trillions.


On the eve of the Paris climate conference, a new analysis from Stanford University has laid out a roadmap for 139 countries to power their economies with solar, wind, and hydro energy by 2050.

The idea of net zero emissions, or a decarbonised economy, is being openly discussed at the Paris conference, even by Australia, with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull talking (but not yet acting) of a push to zero carbon energy, and Labor putting it into their policy modelling. The Greens are pushing for 90 per cent renewables by 2030.

For most however, zero carbon means including carbon capture and storage and nuclear, or offsets from forestry, land use and other sequestration. Some, though, are talking of meeting that talking with 100 per cent renewable energy only.

The Stanford study focuses on what is has dubbed “WWS” – wind, water and sunlight. And it includes not just electricity but transportation, heating and cooling, industry, and agriculture, forestry and fishing.

It says the world can reach 80 per cent “WWS” by 2030, which puts the Greens target for 90 per cent renewable energy for electricity only for Australia by the same date in a different perspective.


The roadmap outlines numerous benefits – millions of jobs, no impact on economic growth – and total savings from fuel costs, environment and climate damage of nearly $US5,000 a year.

Stanford study estimates that it will save each person in the 139 countries an average of $170 a year on fuel costs, and $2,880 a year in air-pollution-damage cost and $US1,930/person/year in climate costs (2013 dollars).

They have even broken now the equipment and installations needed into each country. It appears eye watering, but Stanford says the land use requirements are minimal – just 0.29 per cent of the land area, mostly for solar PV, not including reclaimed fossil fuel plants.

Their plan, under one generalised scenario, would require:

  •  496,900 50-MW utility-scale solar-PV power plants (providing the most power, 42..2% of the 139-country power for all purposes).
  • 1.17 million new onshore 5-MW wind turbines (19.4%).
  • 762,000 off-shore 5-MW wind turbines (12.9%)
  • 15,400 100-MW utility-scale CSP power plants with storage (7.7%).
  • 653 million 5-kW residential rooftop PV systems (5.6%).
  • 35.3 million 100-kW commercial/government rooftop systems (6.0%).
  • 840 100- MW geothermal plants (0.74%).
  • 496,000 0.75-MW wave devices (0.72%).
  • 32,100 1-MW tidal turbines (0.07%)
  • Zero new hydropower plants. (Stanford says the capacity factor of existing hydropower plants will increase slightly so that hydropower supplies 4.8% of all-purpose power).
  • Another estimated 9,300 100-MW CSP plants with storage and 99,400 50-MW solar thermal collectors for heat generation and storage will be needed to help stabilize the grid.

Energy efficiency and changing industrial practises will be important. The average end use load will fall 39.2 per cent, with 82 per cent of this fall due to electrification and eliminating the need for mining, transport, and refining of conventional fuels.

The cost reductions come from the fact that that levellised costs of electricity for hydropower, onshore wind, utility-scale solar, and solar thermal for heat is already similar to or less than natural gas combined-cycle power plants.

And as the LCOE for rooftop PV, offshore wind, tidal, and wave energy fall below conventional fuels in coming years and decades.

Stanford says the major benefits of a conversion to WWS are the near-elimination of air pollution morbidity and mortality and global warming, net job creation, energy-price stability, reduced international conflict over energy because each country will be energy independent.

It will bring power 4 billion people worldwide who currently collect their own energy and burn it, and reduced risks of large-scale system disruptions because much of the world power supply will be decentralized.

“Finally, the aggressive worldwide conversion to WWS proposed here will avoid exploding levels of CO2 and catastrophic climate change.”

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  1. DogzOwn 5 years ago

    If only our leaders weren’t so determined to protect foreign investment from the likes of Gdf-SUEZ and dirty, dinosaur Hazelwood. Why do they prolong the agony, forever and ever…?

    • nakedChimp 5 years ago

      two words.. money rules.

  2. John Saint-Smith 5 years ago

    There is an enormous gulf between this sort of analysis and the ‘very expensive heroic fantasy’ comments by Turnbull about even achieving a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030. Whose judgement can we trust?

    May I humbly suggest that the man who also said that the policy he now supports is ‘ahead of the pack’, in 2009, described this ‘Direct Action’ scheme in his own blog as ‘Bullsh-t’:

    “Many Liberals are rightly dismayed that on this vital issue of climate change we are not simply without a policy, without any prospect of having a credible policy but we are now without integrity. We have given our opponents the irrefutable, undeniable evidence that we cannot be trusted.”

    So there you have it, from his own lips – he can’t be trusted.

  3. Douglas Levene 5 years ago

    And, not only will each family save $2,500 per year, but if they like their utility, they can keep their utility.

    Seriously, if there was ever a better illustration of GIGO than this piece, I haven’t seen it.

    • Steve159 5 years ago

      @Douglas Levene

      your post is, to me, unintelligible

      “Seriously, if there was ever a better illustration of GIGO than this piece, I haven’t seen it.” – I assume you mean “Garbage in Garbage out”, and if that is in reference to this article, presumably those at Stanford are pushing garbage?

      Presumably, you’ve a postgrad degree from Harvard, nothing so crass as from Stanford.

      • Douglas Levene 5 years ago

        If you want to read a more detailed analysis of the costs of renewables, rather than a purely theoretical one based on unrealistic assumptions, see

        • Steve159 5 years ago

          is the cost of adverse environmental and public health outcomes of fossil fuels included, in comparitive analysis? Does it include the annual $600 million for health issues related to coal in the Hunter Valley (NSW), or the $800 million in the Latrobe Valley (Vic)?

          btw, Yale? Who they? In any case, doesn’t much matter — the world is “voting with their feet”, or more correctly, their wallets.

          Game over. bye bye coal.

          As for “can’t” power the world with renewables. Nonsense. Easy as, including cold climes.

          What analysis of the naysayers (pro-fossil/nuclear) will reveal is … (follow the money) … money. Vested interests.

          • Douglas Levene 5 years ago

            2,400 coal-fired nuclear power plants are currently under, or planned for, construction worldwide. Further deponent sayeth not.

          • Steve159 5 years ago

            See my reply to Douglas, above (@5.43am).

            There are momentums involved which overnight won’t see renewables replace fossil/nuclear, but if determination and creativity is included in the equation, soon enough. Easily by 2050.

            E.g. “The Saharan Desert is 9,064,958 square kilometers, or 18 times the total required area to fuel the world” (entirely with solar).

            Maybe not next week. With all hands on deck, by Christmas?

          • philofthefuture 5 years ago

            You mean coal fired plants of course. You are right, while the US is decommissioning coal plants, China, India, and other developing countries are building them like mad.

          • philofthefuture 5 years ago

            Don’t confuse economic slowdown with long term trends. The fact is they are still building coal plants and as of COP21 still demand the right to use coal to ‘catch up’ to the west. Ditto for India.

          • philofthefuture 5 years ago

            Renewables are not “ALL GOOD”, fossils are not “ALL BAD”. Both have good and bad points. The scale is now tipping to renewables due to cost far more so than pollution or AGW.
            Renewables will win over time, the question is how much are you willing to destroy your economy to rush them before they hit the economic crossover. In many markets solar is already there, as well as wind. Other markets will transition as well over time without government mandates. How urgent is urgent? Considering the earth takes decades to respond to CO2 does a couple of years make that much difference? At what social cost?

      • Douglas Levene 5 years ago

        FWIW, my post-grads are Yale and Michigan,

      • philofthefuture 5 years ago

        It’s a play on Obamacare, ‘If you like your insurance you can keep it’. It was a flat out lie and Obama knew it. If they were honest the bill never would have passed.
        It’s easy to provide a roadmap for almost anything, the devil is in the details. Nuclear was supposed to be too cheap to meter, fusion was supposed to offer unlimited energy, etc. All total BS as it turns out.

        • Steve159 5 years ago

          Sorry – this is a website — the obscure reference to Obamacare would likely be lost on most of those here (at least for those in Au).

          As for devil in the detail, of course. The Manhattan project, an enormous project for its time, began with the urgency to build a bomb. The detail came, in time, through the creative efforts of those involved.

          We could do the same for solar, call it what you will, an Apollo program, or a Manhattan program for solar.

          The result can be achieved. Whether we’ve got the political will to do so, is entirely another matter.

          • philofthefuture 5 years ago

            Hence my clarification of meaning! 😀 Economically it has to happen over time as fossils increase and renewables decrease. The question is how much of a cost penalty is a country willing to tolerate to move the crossover forward from where it would naturally fall? Hawaii is largely diesel so solar is already viable. Where I live in Washington state, my electric is 7 cents/KWH so massive subsidies are required for solar to pay.
            No one doubts that trying to force the world to solar 25 years ago would have been a disaster. No one doubts that transitioning 25 years from now would be a no brainer. The longer you wait the cheaper it gets. Not an easy question with the developed world so far in debt as is.

  4. John Elliott 5 years ago

    For those of you who missed the Australian equivalent (University of Melbourne) of this ambitious yet achievable Stanford Uni world plan, check out the 2010 Zero Carbon Australia Stationary (everything except transport) Energy Plan at This is a plan with a 10 year execution timeline!

  5. Math Geurts 5 years ago

    Giles Parkinson did not toke enough time to study the roadmap. In fact this (preliminary) analysis shows that quite some of this 139 countries: Gilbraltar, Singapore, Hongkong, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, can not power their economy with just solar , wind and hydro.

    • Steve159 5 years ago


      “can not power their economy with just solar , wind and hydro.” . Yet.

      Question is: what do you want? A world powered by renewable energy? (if yes, simple matter to focus on that reality, and create it).

      if no, why? How does that profit you? Investments in coal, nuclear?

      Can’t fly a man to the moon either, in the 50s, or early 60s. Man can’t fly in the 1880s.

      So? What’s your point.

      • Math Geurts 5 years ago

        My point is: Giles Parkinson did not toke enough time to study the roadmap. In fact this (preliminary) analysis shows that quite some of this 139 countries: Gilbraltar, Singapore, Hongkong, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, can not power their economy with just solar, wind and hydro.

        • Steve159 5 years ago

          As Henry said, “whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”.

          It amazes me people avoid the elephant in the room.

          You did not answer the question: WHAT DO YOU WANT?

          If you were to answer that, genuinely, without money being central to your concerns, you’d either say “a clean energy future” or not. And if not, it’s because of money (investment, working in fossil/nuclear), OR a lack of imagination, and grit to help make a clean-energy future a reality.

          Which is it?

          • Math Geurts 5 years ago

            Mark Jacobson et al. definitely want “a clean energy future”, their imagination is unlimited and they hoped and propably even “thought” that all 139 countries could power their economy with just solar, wind and hydro, but the result of their analysis is that the mentioned countries, incl. Germany, are not able to do that, even in 2050.

            That is science. What remains is an incurable illness called religion.

          • Steve159 5 years ago


            Sahara + solar + sea-water + pipe-line to Europe, and shipped whole word. All fossil, nuclear, gone.

            Maybe the project not finished by this afternoon. Tomorrow. Day after, who’s quiblling.

          • Math Geurts 5 years ago

            It took some time but finally you understand that Jacobson’s analysis has shown that some European countries, incl. Germany, can not power their economy with their own solar, wind and hydro.

          • Steve159 5 years ago

            Uhm, NO, that is but one idea, suitable perhaps for all the naysayers and negoholics in the audience. German ingenuity will get the result they want.

            Don’t you worry ’bout that, as they say.

      • Math Geurts 5 years ago

        After 1972 nobody has flown to the moon anymore because we understand it does not make sense.

        • Steve159 5 years ago

          “make sense”, you mean, “make money”.
          They’re now headed to Mars. I don’t suppose you see the irony.

    • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

      I don’t see the problem with a few smallish island or landlocked countries not having sufficient renewable energy resources on their own domestic territory to power their own economies. None of the economies you list are self-sufficient in fossil fuels either (indeed the list of countries not self-sufficient in energy today is very long indeed).

      I do have my doubts that the larger of the countries mentioned don’t have sufficient resources to go fully renewable in the near term.

      • Math Geurts 5 years ago

        OK, but remains the question: why do people like Mark Jacobson want the world to believe that a (not small and not landlocked) country like Germany could power it’s economy in 2050 with just solar, wind and hydro while their own data show the opposite?

        Why is Giles Parkinson spreading such stories, fully aware that all studies from Germany, incl. those from Fraunhofer ISE, concludes something else?

        Zealotism is fine as long as it is Green Zealotism?

        • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

          Running a country on renewable energy isn’t the same thing at all as running it exclusively on domestically-produced renewable energy. I have no more problem with Germany or any other country importing some of its energy needs in 2050 than I have with them importing energy today.

          Some people may be making extravagant claims that countries like Germany or the Czech Republic are technically capable of fully-renewable energy autarky. Those claims may or may not be credible, but I don’t see Giles Parkinson making them. Your claim of “zealotism” is but a straw man.

  6. Steve159 5 years ago

    Besides Stanford, Musk is of the same opinion.

    I’m inclined to listen to him, notwithstanding those of you who started and now run multi-billion dollar technology companies and say that we CAN’T.

    “Solar (Musk said), could power the world. One small slice of Spain could
    provide all the power needed for Europe, and a small slice of Nevada
    could do the same for the US. In reality, the world would need a mixture
    of solar, wind, hydro and geothermal, with maybe some nuclear in
    countries that are stable and already have it.”

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