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Converting New York State Entirely to Renewable Energy: What Would It Look Like?

While the State of New York hashes out deep disagreement over how to deal with sugary megadrinks that contribute to obesity, maybe they can turn their attention to something a little less complicated — like mapping a full conversion to 100 percent renewable energy in less than 20 years.

Stanford Professor Mark Z. Jacobson previously co-authored studies in 2009 and 2011, outlining what it would take to shift completely to renewable energy at a global and national scale, respectively. In either case, such conversion would be a colossal undertaking in infrastructure, policy, finance, and partnerships.

But could it be more feasible to do it on a smaller scale — say, an individual state? Jacobson has now shrunk those analyses down to what it would take for the State of New York to shift its entire energy needs — transportation, electricity, heating and cooling — to renewable sources. Bottom line: It is all doable, with some important cost comparisons and behavioral shifts. "We think it's feasible to power the grid this way," Jacobson told "The assumption that you can't do it, is just an assumption."

The study, scheduled for upcoming publication in the journal Energy Policy, breaks down the specific mix of renewable energy ("wind, water and sunlight," or WWS) required to convert New York's all-purpose energy infrastructure. It uses 11 criteria to evaluate each technology: e.g. resource abundance, footprint and spacing, operating reliability, water consumption, emissions and pollution. Excluding mined natural gas, liquid biofuels, nuclear power, and carbon-capture coal (for reasons detailed in the full study), here's what they come up with as New York's renewables-only mix by 2030:

  • 40 percent: Offshore wind (12,770 5-megawatt turbines)
  • 10 percent: Onshore wind (4,020 5-MW turbines)
  • 10 percent: Concentrated solar (387 100-MW CSP plants)
  • 10 percent: Utility-scale solar PV (828 50-MW plants)
  • 6 percent: Residential rooftop PV (5,000,000 5-kW systems)
  • 12 percent: Commercial/government rooftop PV (500,000 100-kW systems)
  • 5.5 percent: Hydro (7 1.3-GW hydroelectric power plants, most of which already exist)
  • 5 percent: Geothermal (36 100-MW plants)
  • 1 percent: Tidal (2,600 1-MW tidal turbines)
  • 0.5 percent: Wave energy (1,910 0.75-MW wave devices)

The end result, according to the study: power demand would be reduced by 37 percent, fuel costs would be zero, there would be a net increase in jobs, nearly all energy would be produced in-state, costs (and mortality) associated with pollution and emissions would decline significantly, and the 271 GW of installed power needed would be repaid within 17 years.

Such a transition won't happen easily or overnight, of course. Jacobson proposes some ~40 short-term policy options, including expanding the state's renewable portfolio standard (RPS), setting goals for offshore wind, establishing a green bank, implementing feed-in tariffs and net metering, more electric vehicles, etc. Another big part of the picture will be much more aggressive targets for energy efficiency, currently 15 percent less energy use by 2015. He also offers suggestions to smooth out variability of the renewable energy sources, by bundling them with hydro or stored CSP power, using demand-response management, oversizing the mix, and using energy storage. He cites two recent studies showing up to >99.8 percent of electricity could be produced using these "WWS" resources over multiple years.

The study wasn't funded from any group; it was requested and encouraged by people working on different types of energy proposals in New York State, Jacobson noted. He's subsequently put together a similar renewables roadmap for California, and is starting another one for Washington State. The model could be replicated for all 50 states, he says, with customized mixes of energy that take advantage of local resources, and with improvements to transmission systems and interconnections. And, of course, the commitment to make it happen.

Lead image: Map of New York State, via Shutterstock

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