Imagine a future where the entire U.S. energy infrastructure runs on clean, renewable energy. It’s possible to do it by 2050, says Stanford civil and environmental professor Mark Jacobson, and even without any new technologies. In a presentation during the Digital Cities Summit 2016, Jacobson laid out the hidden upside of using solar, wind and water resources — rather than burning fossil fuels — to power everything from appliances and machinery to cars and building systems. “If you electrify everything, something magical happens. Without really changing your habits, you can reduce power demand by about 42 percent,” he says.
Such a huge reduction in power demand comes mostly from the efficiency gains of electricity over combustion and eliminating the energy needed to mine, transport and refine fossil fuels. In addition to the pure energy savings, Jacobson estimates that we could avoid 4 million to 7 million deaths from air pollution, eliminate $15 trillion to $25 trillion in global warming costs, create 17 million more jobs than would be lost if we don’t transition, and reduce the energy poverty of up to 4 billion people worldwide.