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Study Says Renewables Could Meet New York’s Energy Needs

Installation of rooftop-mounted photovoltaic arrays
A new study reveals that all of the energy used throughout the State of New York could be generated by renewable resources rather than fossil fuels if such sources as wind, water, and the sun were to be fully tapped. Rooftop-mounted photovoltaic arrays, like this one in Poughkeepsie, New York, could contribute significantly toward such an effort. Wikimedia Commons/Lucas Braun

Researchers develop a plan to power all of New York using wind, water, and sunlight.

June 18, 2013—According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, New York State was the eighth-largest consumer of energy in the United States in 2010. To keep up with the demand, New York officials are considering whether to approve the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to obtain natural gas in the state. But a study released earlier this year shows that it would be technically and economically feasible for New York to meet all of its energy needs using wholly renewable sources.

Published in the journal Energy Policy and authored by researchers at Stanford University, Cornell University, and the University of California at Davis, the study finds that it would be possible to convert all of New York’s energy infrastructure so that rather than relying primarily on fossil fuels, it would be powered entirely by wind, water, and sunlight. The study states that a complete transition to these renewable sources would do more than reduce greenhouse gas emissions; it would also lower the ultimate demand for power, improve residents’ health and well-being, and create jobs in the state.

“It is technically and economically feasible to repower a state such as New York for all purposes—electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry—with wind, water, and sunlight,” said Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and one of the study’s authors, in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineering online. “I am confident that at least some, if not many, of the proposed policy measures will be adopted and the idea will take hold.”

In a press release on the study published by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, an organization affiliated with Stanford University that addresses itself to complex environmental and sustainability challenges, Jacobson stated that “converting to wind, water, and sunlight is feasible, will stabilize [the] costs of energy, and will produce jobs while reducing health and climate damage.”

The researchers examined historical data and performed extensive calculations to develop a plan that they say would meet all of the state’s needs. Under their proposal, 10 percent of the state’s power would come from onshore wind, 40 percent from offshore wind, 10 percent from concentrated solar power systems, 10 percent from solar power plants, 6 percent from residential rooftop photovoltaics, 12 percent from commercial and governmental rooftop photovoltaics, 5 percent from geothermal sources, 0.5 percent from wave energy, 1 percent from tidal power devices, and 5.5 percent from hydroelectric plants. Under this scenario, all vehicles would run on electric power or hydrogen fuel cells. “We must be ambitious if we want to promote energy independence and curb global warming,” said Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University and an author of the study, in the release from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

The study found that the conversion would reduce New York’s end-use power demand by roughly 37 percent and stabilize energy prices because fuel costs would be significantly reduced. Additionally, deaths in the state related to air pollution would decrease by about 4,000 annually, and the state’s related health care spending would decrease by an estimated $33 billion, or 3 percent of its gross domestic product. That savings alone would pay for the new energy generation infrastructure in 17 years, but if the change were coupled with annual electricity sales, the payback time could take just 10 years, the researchers found. Other benefits include the creation of approximately 4.5 million jobs during construction of the renewable energy systems and roughly 58,000 jobs a year thereafter at the proposed facilities alone, the study says.

A volunteer effort on the part of the researchers, the study is an extension of two earlier projects, one that examined the feasibility of using renewable sources to provide energy around the world and another that looked at using such sources to power the United States as a whole. Next the researchers plan to prepare similar studies for California and Washington, the largest state in the nation and the state with the largest reserves of fossil fuels, respectively. “It became apparent that it was necessary to develop a plan on a smaller scale if it were to be implemented,” Jacobson told Civil Engineering online. “We chose [to start with] New York because there were important energy issues being discussed there, including whether to allow hydrofracking of natural gas, and we were encouraged to study an alternative in the state.”

New York has shale from the Marcellus Formation, sedimentary rock that extends throughout much of the Appalachian basin and contains untapped natural gas resources. The state currently has a moratorium on fracking, which involves pumping pressurized fluid into the ground to release the natural gas hidden within the shale, but lawmakers are debating whether to lift the ban. The discussion has drawn opposition from environmental groups and some health organizations that claim the practice can lead to significant air and water pollution. It is reported that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo will decide by the end of the year whether to lift the ban.



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