You’ll Never Guess Which U.S. State Could Be Fossil-Fuel-Free by 2050

A group of scientists explains how wind, water, and solar can completely power New York by mid-century.

New York City
All of New York City’s energy needs—and those of the entire state—could be met by renewables. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone had a plan that outlined how to convert New York State’s energy infrastructure to one derived entirely from wind, water, and sunlight?

Actually, some scientists have one that’s ready to go.

A new theoretic study lays out how New York State’s entire end-use power could be provided by 50 percent wind, 38 percent solar, 5 percent geothermal and the rest wave and tidal energy. This ambitious goal could be achieved as early as 2030, with 2050 being the deadline when all conventional fossil fuel generation would be phased out completely.

The plan generates a large net increase in jobs, and attractive jobs at that. How could any reasonable politician or business person not want to jump on board?

Robert Howarth, co-author of the study and a professor of ecology at Cornell University, tells TakePart that he’s been working on climate change and its consequences since the 1970s. “I’m increasingly alarmed by the observed rate of warming, which is even faster than most models have predicted,” he says. “If we are to solve the problem of global warming, our current energy policies are completely wrong-headed.” 

For this reason, Howarth dove headlong into clean-energy alternatives.

“Many pundits tell us that solar, wind, etc., are great conceptually, but that it will take many decades to start to make these technologies economically feasible. Mark Jacobson [a co-author of the study, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, and the director of Atmosphere/Energy Program], on the other hand, has been doing some nice work illustrating how society can transition rapidly to renewables if we integrate production and use of energy in a systems perspective.”

When Jacobson visited Cornell a couple of years ago, Howarth and several of his colleagues asked him if he thought they could apply his vision to New York State.

“New York is one of the larger economies in the world and New York City is the most energy-efficient city in the U.S.,” says Howarth. “Jacobson got excited about writing such a blueprint, and we have worked together since then to produce the paper we released earlier this week.”

Their study anticipates that if the percentage of new electric power generators that were wind, water, solar (WWS) were to start increasing today, by 2020 all new generators would be WWS generators.

“Existing conventional generators will be phased out gradually, but no later than 2050. Similarly, all new heating and cooling technologies will be WWS technologies by 2020 and existing technologies will be replaced over time, but by no later than 2050,” states the study.

Howarth explains that the diversified set of renewables used in the plan add economic and physical stability to the system. “The particular sources were chosen based on the siting characteristics and energy resources available in New York, following the general guidance that Jacobson has laid out in earlier writings,” he says.

The study lists quite a number of recommended short-term first steps that need to be taken to start the conversion to WWS in New York, but Howarth believes they can all be accomplished.

“We wanted to produce a real plan and not simply a thought exercise,” he says. “As political and business leaders study the plan—and its huge benefits to the State in terms of better health, lower health care costs, and more predictable and sustainable energy sources and costs—we feel they will endorse the plan, and begin to implement the steps.”

Howarth adds that, “Over the next decade, the economic advantage of renewables will only grow larger. And of course, the plan generates a large net increase in jobs, and attractive jobs at that. How could any reasonable politician or business person not want to jump on board?”

“Reasonable” and “politician” are not words usually seen in the same sentence, but here’s to hoping they might be a perfect match in this case.

Do you think that New York State can make this quick of a transition to renewable energy sources? Tell us your thoughts in the COMMENTS.

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