March 12, 2013

New York's fossil fuel: Gone with the wind, water and sun

Converting all of the state's energy sources from natural gas, coal and fossil fuel to wind, water and sunlight by 2030 will stabilize electricity prices, reduce power demand by about 37 percent and create thousands of permanent jobs, suggests a new report in the journal Energy Policy (March 12, 2013).

"Can New York state rid itself of fossil fuel in the near future? The answer is yes. The economics of this plan make sense; now it is up to the political sphere," says Anthony Ingraffea, Cornell professor of engineering and a co-author on the report.

The report, "Examining the Feasibility of Converting New York State's All-Purpose Energy Infrastructure to One Using Wind, Water and Sunlight," is the first-ever, comprehensive plan for an individual state - New York - that provides 100 percent of its all-purpose energy from wind, water and sunlight. Further, it calculates the number of energy devices, land and ocean areas, jobs and policies needed for such an infrastructure. Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University is the lead author, and Ingraffea and Robert W. Howarth, Cornell professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, are co-authors.

"New York state has the opportunity to lead the nation and the world toward what we all know must be the energy path of the 21st century," says Howarth. "The only questions have been, how long will it take to get to renewables, and how much will they cost. Here we show it can be done quickly, and at a net economic benefit to the state."

During the construction phases, this energy plan could generate 4.5 million jobs for New York. After construction, the plan suggests 58,000 permanent jobs would be created.

An additional land footprint needed for wind, water and sunlight devices is less than 1 percent of New York's land area. But, what will New York state's landscape look like?

If the conversion occurs, the state's 2030 power demand will be met by:

  • 4,020 onshore 5-megawatt wind turbines;
  • 12,770 off-shore 5-megawatt wind turbines;
  • 387 100-megawatt concentrated solar plants;
  • 828 50-megawatt photo-voltaic power plants;
  • 5 million 5-kilowatt residential rooftop, photo-voltaic systems;
  • 500,000 100-kilowatt commercial/government rooftop systems;
  • 36 100-megawatt geothermal plants;
  • 1,910 0.75-megawatt wave devices;
  • 2,600 1-megawatt tidal wind-turbines; and
  • seven 1,300-megawatt hydroelectric power plants, of which most exist.

"About extracting fossil fuel underneath New York state, people should be concerned about 50,000 wells; 10,000 pads; 500 compressors and 10,000 miles of new pipe - and most of this underground. Our proposals are all above ground, all recyclable and, over the course of 15 years, very doable," says Ingraffea.

The onshore wind capacity installed under this plan - about 20 gigawatts - would be less than twice the current installed now in Texas.

In terms of health, air pollution-related illness would fall substantially, resulting in about 4,000 fewer deaths annually.

The plan effectively pays for the new energy generation infrastructure over 15 years solely by the reduction in air pollution costs to the state and global warming costs to the U.S. from state emissions. Annual electricity sales reduce the payback time to about 10 years. The current fossil-fuel infrastructure does not provide the air quality benefits to New York, say the authors.

This plan may serve as a template in other states and countries. Results here suggest that the implementation of plans like this in countries worldwide should reduce global warming, air, soil, water pollution and energy insecurity.

No group, company or government agency funded this study, which was a volunteer effort by faculty and students at Stanford, Cornell and other institutions.