It's a common perception that making a large-scale switch to renewable energy would mean a less reliable power supply and higher costs for the consumer. A new report says just the opposite is true, and projects a net savings of $83 billion over the next 40 years.
The report, conducted by Synapse Energy Economics, a research and consulting firm, details a future with more energy efficiency and renewable energy, and less reliance on coal and nuclear power. It takes into account the falling price of renewable energy, such as solar, and forecasts that continued reliance on fossil fuels will not be as cheap as in the past.
"Current coal prices are up and are forecasted to be up over the long term. Natural gas prices over the long term are forecasted to rise. For both of these price assumptions, we used the U.S. government's price forecast. In addition, the nation's fleet of coal-fired power plants faces billions of dollars in retrofit costs in order to continue operating," said Geoff Keith, senior associate with Synapse.
Some of the key findings of the report include the following:
- Natural gas use in 2050 would be reduced 28 percent from projected levels for 2050.
- Due in part to a significantly increased emphasis on energy efficiency, power sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2020 would fall 25 percent below 2010 levels; by 2050, such pollution would be 81 percent below 2010 levels. Under status quo trends, CO2 emissions would grow 28 percent from current levels by 2050.
- The health and environmental impacts of coal-fired electricity are dramatically reduced and, by 2050, eliminated altogether when all coal-fired facilities are retired. For example, over 50,000 premature deaths are avoided relative to status quo trends linked to pollution from coal-fired plants.
- The construction and operation of the new power plants in the first decade would create roughly 3.1 million new job-years, the equivalent of 310,000 people employed for the entire decade.
Pennsylvania Clean Air Council, a non-profit environmental organization, says that this report just confirms what they've been telling people for years. They say that arguments against the expanded use of renewable energy are scare tactics.
"You know, about not being able to keep the lights on, or higher energy bills for renewables. I think what the nation needs to do is have a responsible, fact-informed dialogue about these things because Pennsylvania, truthfully, could and should embrace a clean-energy, cost-effective future, than we build on renewable energy. If we start now, it's achievable," said Katie Feeney, global warming policy analyst for the council.
The council thinks that relying more heavily on renewable energy would have numerous benefits for the state.
"Pennsylvania was voted the second most toxic state in a recent report. We talk a lot about cheap energy, but there really is a human cost to burning coal in terms of lost work days and increased asthma," she said.
According to a Civil Society Institute (CSI) national opinion survey, more than three in four Americans (77 percent) — including 65 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of Independents, 88 percent of Democrats, and 56 percent of Tea Party members — agree with the following statement: "The U.S. needs to be a clean energy technology leader and it should invest in the research and domestic manufacturing of wind, solar and energy efficiency technologies."
"Our hope is that this report will be used as a discussion starter in what's been a one-sided perception of what's possible in our energy future, so it's a very broad outreach that we're engaged in," said Pam Solo, President of CSI, a non-profit, non-partisan community issues think tank.
A statement within the study says that the intent is not to lay out an optimized or detailed roadmap for the industry, but to explore a fundamental change in direction.