Earlier this year, the Clean Power Plan pledged to cut US power plant carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2050. A new study says the US can do way better than that: reducing all greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent and running the country entirely on renewable energy by 2050.

This most optimistic scenario is released by Labor Network for Sustainability and 350.org, with research by economist Frank Ackerman of Synapse Energy Economics, just as the world’s leaders are about to grapple with slashing global emissions by 80 percent at the Paris climate talks. It’s named the Clean Energy Future, and it sounds wonderful.

The central assumption of this future is that the costs of renewable energy, like wind and solar, keep plummeting, which inspires widespread adoption, and that increased energy efficiency cuts down on overall consumption. No new nuclear or coal plants are constructed, and coal plants cease operation within 45 years, with nuclear power completely ending within 60 years. In addition, all cars and trucks will switch to electric—no more gasoline-powered vehicles.


The Clean Energy Future scenario also hedges a bit by assuming that no new energy technology is developed in the next 35 years, which will probably not end up being true. Consider how much the world has changed in the last 35 years:

Projection of the technologies of 2050 inevitably feels like gazing into a crystal ball. Looking at what will exist 35 years from now is comparable to anticipating today’s technologies back in 1980—a time when cell phones, personal computers, and the World Wide Web did not yet exist.

About six months ago, just before the announcement of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a team led by Mark Z. Jacobson at Stanford’s Atmosphere and Energy Program published its own roadmap for the US to run exclusively on renewable energy by 2050. That study included 50 separate roadmaps for all 50 states to get to that renewable energy future. That’s also a central component of the Clean Power Plan—that every state is different when it comes to natural resources and regulatory issues, so each state needs its own path.

While the Clean Energy Future plan agrees that states need to lead the way, this study focuses heavily on jobs and the economic impact of renewable energy industries. The study claims this plan will create new jobs—“more than 500,000 per year over business as usual projections through 2050.” This has been a key criticism of the Clean Power Plan from those who claim traditional energy generation methods like coal-fire plants are threatened.


We need more studies like this to show that the gains offered by renewable energy are not just good for the environment, but will provide a much-needed economic boost as well.

Read the whole study at Clean Energy Future.

AP Photo/Nati Harnik