Can renewable energy power the world?
Can renewable energy power the world?

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Can renewable energy power the world?

8.8 Can renewables power the world?

Can renewable energy provide enough energy to power the world?

One study demonstrating that this is possible was published in popular form in Scientific American in 2009 by two scientists from Stanford University in California (Jacobson and Delucchi, 2009).

In the following year they backed up their arguments in two detailed papers in the refereed journal Energy Policy (Jacobson and Delucchi, 2010a and 2010b), Their research suggests that the world’s total power demand for electricity and other purposes, which they estimate will reach between 11.5 and 16.9 TW by 2030, could be supplied by large numbers of wind turbines, solar power plants, water wave, hydro and geothermal installations, as detailed in Table 2 below.

Table 2 Number of wind, wave and solar (WWS) power plants or devices needed to supply world final energy demand in 2030 (11.5 TW)

Energy technology Rated power of one plant or device/MW Per cent of 2030 power demand met by plant/device % Number of plants or devices needed for world energy demand Footprint area (% of global land area)

Spacing area

(% of global land area)

Wind Turbine 5 50 3.8 million 0.000033 1.17
Wave device 0.75 1 720 000 0.00026 0.013
Geothermal plant 100 4 5350 0.0013 0
Hydroelectric plant 1300 4 900a 0.407a 0
Tidal turbine 1 1 490 000 0.000098 0.0013
Roof PV system 0.003 6 1.7 billion 0.042b 0
Solar PV plant 300 14 40 000 0.097 0
CSP plant 300 20 49 000 0.192 0
Total 100 0.74 1.18
Total new land 0.41c 0.59c
a About 70% of the hydroelectric plants are already in place
b The footprint area for rooftop PV does not represent an increase in land since the rooftops already exist and are not used for other purposes
c Assumes 50% of the wind is over water, wave and tidal are in water, 70% of hydroelectric is already in place, and rooftop solar does not require new land.
Source: Derived from Jacobson and Delucchi, 2010a.

The figures shown above assume a given partitioning of the demand among plants or devices. They also show the footprint and spacing areas required to meet the world demand, as percentages of the total global land area (1.446 x 108 km2).

Jacobson and Delucchi acknowledge that the numbers in Table 2 above may seem daunting, but as they point out, installation would be spread over two decades, and since the world currently produces some 73 million cars and light trucks every year, for example, this could suggest that the world’s industrial production capacity is probably sufficient – if we chose to harness it in this way.

You’ll now look at another study, showing how the world could supply nearly all of its energy from renewables by 2050, if combined with major energy saving measures.


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