New York's Energy Future: Fact or Fiction?

May 20, 2013
How NYC can be powered by wind, hydro, and solar.

A new study finds that it is technically and economically feasible to convert New York’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one powered by wind, water, and sunlight (WWS). The plan, scheduled for publication in the journal Energy Policy, shows the way to a sustainable, inexpensive, and reliable energy supply that creates local jobs and saves the state billions of dollars in pollution-related costs.

Mark Z. Jacobson, a senior fellow with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy, co-authored the study with scientists from Cornell University and the University of California-Davis.

“Converting to wind, water, and sunlight is feasible, will stabilize costs of energy, and will produce jobs while reducing health and climate damage,” says Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering.

The study is the first to develop a plan to fulfill all of a state’s transportation, electric power, industry, and heating and cooling energy needs with renewable energy, and to calculate the number of new devices and jobs created, amount of land and ocean areas required, and policies needed for such an infrastructure change. It also provides calculations of air pollution mortality and morbidity impacts and costs based on multiple years of air quality data.

The study concludes that while a WWS conversion may result in initial capital cost increases, such as the cost of building renewable energy power plants, these investments would be more than made up for over time by the elimination of fuel costs. The overall switch would reduce New York’s end-use power demand by about 37%, stabilize energy prices, and reduce fuel costs to zero, according to the study. It would also create a net gain in manufacturing, installation, and technology jobs because nearly all the state’s energy would be produced within the state.

According to the researchers’ calculations, New York’s 2030 power demand for all sectors (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry) could be met by:

  • 4,020 onshore 5 mW wind turbines and 12,770 offshore 5 mW wind turbines
  • 387 100 mW concentrated solar plants
  • 828 50 mW photovoltaic power plants
  • 500,000 100 kW commercial and government rooftop photovoltaic systems and 5 million 5 kW residential rooftop photovoltaic systems
  • 36 100 mW geothermal plants
  • 1,910 0.75 mW wave devices and 2,600 1 mW tidal turbines
  • Seven 1,300 mW hydroelectric power plants, most of which exist

According to the study, if New York switched to WWS, air pollution related deaths would decline by about 4,000 annually and the state would save about $33 billion in related health costs every year – 3% of the state’s gross domestic product. That savings alone would pay for the new power infrastructure needed within about 17 years, or 10 years if annual electricity sales are accounted for.

The study also estimates that resulting emissions decreases would reduce 2050 U.S. climate change costs – such as coastal erosion and extreme weather damage – by about $3.2 billion per year.

Currently, almost all of New York’s energy comes from imported oil, coal, and gas. Under the plan that Jacobson and his fellow researchers advance, 40% of the state’s energy would come from local wind power, 38% from local solar, and the remainder from a combination of hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal, and wave energy.

All vehicles would run on battery-electric power or hydrogen fuel cells. Electricity-powered air- and ground-source heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps, heat exchangers, and backup electric resistance heaters would replace natural gas and oil for home heating and air conditioning. High temperatures for industrial processes would be obtained with electricity and hydrogen combustion.

To ensure grid reliability, the plan outlines several methods to match renewable energy supply with demand and to smooth out the variability of WWS resources. These include a grid management system to shift times of demand to better match with timing of power supply, and “over-sizing” peak generation capacity to minimize times when available power is less than demand.

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