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

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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 3 below.

Table 3 Number of wind, wave and solar (WWS) power plants or devices needed to supply world final energy power demand in 2030 (11.5 TW)
Energy technologyRated power of one plant or device/MWPer cent of 2030 power demand met by plant/device %Number of plants or devices needed for world energy demandFootprint area (% of global land area)

Spacing area

(% of global land area)

Wind Turbine5503.8 million0.0000331.17
Wave device0.751720 0000.000260.013
Geothermal plant100453500.00130
Hydroelectric plant13004900 Footnotes   a0.407 Footnotes   a0
Tidal turbine11490 0000.0000980.0013
Roof PV system0.00361.7 billion0.042 Footnotes   b0
Solar PV plant3001440 0000.0970
CSP plant3002049 0000.1920
Total new land0.41 Footnotes   c0.59 Footnotes   c


Footnotes   a About 70% of the hydroelectric plants are already in place Back to main text


Footnotes   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 Back to main text


Footnotes   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. Back to main text


Source: Derived from Jacobson and Delucchi, 2010a. Back to main text

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 3 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.