2030: Why do so many climate change mitigation plans focus on that date?

2030 is the target date for a vast number of climate change pledges signed by mayors, city councils, and even one governor.  Climate change predictive studies mark this time point.  Why is that?   Is this a magic number?  Are we talking about another endpoint in the Mayan calendar?  No, there's a bit more logic that than.          by Cliff Cockerham, Chapter Chair

A:

Three points are worth considering:

#1  Sierra Clubs SSC writes:  "Through the Sierra Student Coalition’s [SSC's] Seize the Grid Campaign, students nationwide are calling on their campus administrations to demand 100% clean energy from their energy providers and to invest directly in renewable energy by 2030." 

#2  If you examine the municipal pledge results from Sierra Club's national campaign called "Is Your City #ReadyFor100?" you will find that many cities have legislated a target set to 2030, most others at 2035, and the entire state of Hawaii at 2045.  Many of the 100% goals set for 2030 are limited to meeting demands for electricity, with total energy use set for later dates ranging from 2035 to 2045.  But, that still does not tell you why!
 
#3  So, here's one persuasive answer.  The much celebrated and periodically attacked Mark Jacobson/Stanford group prepared "Roadmaps for 139 Countries and the 50 United States to Transition to 100%Clean, Renewable Wind, Water, and Solar (WWS) Power for all Purposes by 2050 and 80% by 2030."   These have been examined and affirmed in collaboration with colleagues around the world.   Personally, I also looked at the work of Jacobson's critics and found a few interesting points that are something of a wash when taken together.  For example, some argue that Jacobson's analysis proves that we have the technology to meet the COP21 goals but meeting those goals is not sufficient to assert we will "eliminate global warming and its costs."  On the other hand, the Stanford Roadmaps remain a necessary series of steps with a focus on substantial progress by 2030.  Moving faster where possible reduces the risks, but it also becomes more difficult as one talks about goals encompassing entire states and/or all energy sectors.  Regardless, I saw nothing to overturn the entire body of work by Jacobson, et al. nor cause one to ignore what looks like acceptance by the majority of the academic science community publishing in journals with respect to the feasibility of substantial progress by 2030 as an intermediate step towards achieving the goals of the Paris Accords.
 
My sense is that a pivotal point exists in the assertion that the overarching goal of 

     100% clean, renewable energy sourcing

    is scientifically feasible with current technology

for the purpose of meeting all energy needs by 2050.

Jacobson, et alhave established that the barriers to achieving the overarching goal are not based in science, technology, nor even economics.  In the body of work by Jacobson, et al. and those citing them, the consensus seems to be that there is a cost but there also exist substantial benefits outweighing these costs.  Various economic tradeoffs are appended below if you want to impress your friends! 
The problems come when disaggregating benefits to offset specific costs for specific people, communities, or [if you will pardon the expression] classes of investors.  For example, Jacobson wrote:  "A 100% conversion will create over 20 million more 35-year construction plus operation jobs worldwide than it costs. In the U.S., it will create over 2 million more jobs than it costs."   That is not very comforting to someone who really wants to go down the mineshaft to harvest coal.  On the other hand, what makes it so attractive to chase after black lung disease as a way of avoiding retraining in computer science, solar panel installation, or wind turbine maintenance?  Regardless, Peabody Energy was unlikely to avoid chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2016 by converting their untimely purchase of $5.2 billion worth of Australian coal mines into internet cafes even if filled with unemployed coal miners.  
 

Anyway, what remains after the Jacobson, et al. analysis is that the only real barriers to achieving the global goal are social and political. 

These start with the considerable investment by special interests in climate denial as a means of avoiding bankruptcy.  Then there are factors as mundane as institutional inertia, lack of political will, general paralysis, and forces as vague as wanting to make America great again by reopening coal mines while shutting coal minds.  
 
The kicker is [to get to 100% by 2050 globally and in all sectors] we need to commit to substantial progress [reaching 80% conversion by 2030] AND the 80% cannot be spread out evenly across sectors & continents.  Those that have the resources and the capacity need to strategically move faster to get to 80% rather soon, like 2030 as a goal for the electric grid.  That is why some cities in the Ready for 100% campaign have committed to an electrical grid that is 100% WWS by 2025, 2020, and even 2018.  I suspect that the ultra-rapid conversions by 2018 are where one is more likely to find work-a-round like buying offsets but these too have a place in breaking logjams.
 
The Jacobson group's published papers assert that which he summarized in written testimony to the United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Democratic Forum on Climate Change, November 19, 2015:  "These roadmaps should give confidence to leaders at COP 21 in Paris that their countries can obtain 100% clean, renewable WWS energy by 2050 with substantial conversion by 2030, and that a commitment to a 100% by 2050 goal is scientifically based."  Below I have appended some of the key summary observations in Jacobson's testimony.  These are taken from the attachment that has references, which in turn lead to a vast body of work in their references.  My belief is that if PSR's statement focuses on the electrical power sector, then the 100% goal needs to target 2030 in the United States.  Widening the scope of the statement to include other energy sectors or other nations would justify having a more distant target date.  Questioning whether the Paris Accords are sufficient to maintain a safe margin of error against "unacceptable losses" [or questioning what constitutes acceptable losses] would argue for acting on a faster timeline than the 2030 target.   

If you want to drill down, keep reading!

- Synopsis -

of Jacobson's written testimony to the United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Democratic Forum on Climate Change, November 19, 2015:

 
• Researchers at Stanford University and the University of California have developed roadmaps to transition the energy infrastructures of 139 countries and the 50 United States to 100% clean, renewable infrastructures running on existing-technology wind, water, and solar (WWS) power for all purposes by 2050, with 80% conversion by 2030. 
 
• All-purpose energy includes electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry, and agriculture/forestry/fishing. 
 
• Converting the 50 states, 139 countries, and remaining countries of the world will have the following impacts: (1) eliminate 4-7 million annual worldwide premature air pollution mortalities and their costs, (2) eliminate global warming and its costs, (3) create over 20 million more 35-year global jobs than lost, (4) stabilize energy prices because fuel costs are near zero, (5) reduce international conflict by creating energy-independent regions, (6) reduce terrorism risk by decentralizing power, and (7) reduce the social cost (business + health + climate costs) of energy by 60%. 
 
• The main barriers to a conversion are neither technical nor economic; rather, they are social and political.
 
• These roadmaps should give confidence to leaders at COP 21 in Paris that their countries can obtain 100% clean, renewable WWS energy by 2050 with substantial conversion by 2030, and that a commitment to a 100% by 2050 goal is scientifically based.
They were prepared under the leadership of STANFORD UNIVERSITY's  MARK Z. JACOBSON, Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering Director, Atmosphere/Energy Program Senior Fellow, Precourt Institute for Energy and Woods Institute for the Environment Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering Tel:650-723-6836 Yang & Yamazaki Environment & Energy Building Fax: 650-723-7058 473 Via Ortega, Room 397 jacobson@stanford.edu Stanford, CA 94305-4020 

- Methodology - 

• The idea is to electrify everything, thereby eliminating combustion (the burning of fuel) as a source of energy, pollution, and inefficiency. Electrifying everything reduces power demand relative to conventional fuels by ~32% averaged across all energy sectors due to the efficiency of electricity over combustion. Another ~7% reduction in demand can be obtained from end-use energy efficiency improvements beyond those that would occur by 2050 with conventional fuels. 
 
• For electric power, the WWS technologies to be deployed include onshore and offshore wind turbines, rooftop and power-plant solar photovoltaics (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP) plants, solar heat collectors, geothermal power plants for electricity and heat, existing hydropower plants, and small numbers of tidal and wave devices. 
 
• For ground transportation, the technologies to be used include battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) vehicles, where the hydrogen is produced from electricity passing through water. BEVs with fast charging or battery swapping will dominate long-distance, light-duty ground transportation. Battery electric-HFC hybrids will dominate heavy-duty ground transportation and long-distance water-borne shipping. Batteries will power short-distance shipping. Electrolytic cryogenic hydrogen plus batteries will power aircraft. 
 
• For air heating and cooling, the technologies to be used include electric heat pumps (ground-, air-, or water-source) and some electric-resistance heating. Heat pumps with electric resistance elements and/or solar hot water preheaters will be used to heat domestic water. Cook stoves will have either an electric induction or a resistance-heating element. 
 
• Energy for high-temperature industrial processes will come from electric arc furnaces, induction furnaces, dielectric heaters, resistance heaters, and some combusted hydrogen. 
 
• Storage for electricity includes hydroelectric plants, pumped-hydroelectric facilities, and CSP plants coupled with storage. Storage media for heat include water and rocks and soil under ground; for cold, they include water and ice. Excess electricity will also be used to produce hydrogen and to heat water and rocks. 
 

- Results - 

• Every country we looked at, including France, the Netherlands, Congo, South Africa, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Israel, Peru, Guatemala, and all major countries participating in the upcoming international climate negotiations, can ramp up to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050. Across all continents, some combination of wind, water, and solar allows virtually every country to be energy independent and self-sufficient in terms of annual-average power, although small countries and states will likely find advantage in exchanging electrical energy with neighbors. 
 
• For example, a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (embargoed until Monday, November 23) shows that a 100% conversion of the 48 contiguous United States to WWS will result in a 100% reliable grid 100% of the time even after accounting for the intermittency of wind, water, and solar resources and power demand, if the states are reasonably interconnected. Maintaining grid stability requires combining intermittent WWS generation with existing-technology low-cost electricity, heat, and cold storage and demand response. 
 
• A 100% conversion to WWS worldwide will nearly eliminate 4-7 million premature air-pollution-caused mortalities per year worldwide and 60,000-65,000 premature mortalities per year in the United States. To put these findings in perspective, consider that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 6 million people die each year globally from tobacco-related diseases. 
 
• In the United States, we calculate that 100% conversion to WWS will prevent 60,000-65,000 premature mortalities. Again, to put that in perspective, this is twice as many people as lost each year to motor vehicle accidents according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. 
 
• Avoiding the mortalities, ten times more morbidities, and other environmental impacts of non-greenhouse-gas chemical air pollutants will save the United States and the world over 3% of their respective GDPs annually. Such savings accrue in the form of lower insurance rates, lower workman’s compensation rates, lower taxes, higher worker productivity, fewer lost work days, fewer lost school days, fewer hospitalizations, fewer emergency room visits, less agricultural crop damage, less building, statuary, and tire erosion, and better quality of life. 
 
• A 100% conversion worldwide will eliminate $16-20 trillion/year in global climate costs by 2050. 100% conversion in the U.S. alone will be eliminated $3.3 trillion/year in global climate costs. 
 
• A 100% conversion will stabilize energy prices because fuel costs of WWS electric power are zero, whereas fuel costs of fossil fuels are above zero and rise over time. 
 
• A 100% conversion will save each U.S. consumer $260 (190-320)/year (in 2013 dollars) in energy costs in 2050 and will save the U.S. $1,500 (210-6,000)/year and $8,300 (4,700-17,600)/year per person in health and climate costs, respectively. 
 
• A 100% conversion will create over 20 million more 35-year construction plus operation jobs worldwide than it costs. In the U.S., it will create over 2 million more jobs than it costs. 
 
• A 100% conversion worldwide will require less than 0.4% of the world’s land for the footprint of new devices and less than 1% of the land for spacing between onshore wind turbines. The spacing area can be used for multiple purposes. 
 
• 100% conversions worldwide and in the U.S. will reduce terrorism risk by creating more distributed electric power sources, such as wind and rooftop solar, reducing the need for centralized power plants (such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants) and oil refineries that are subject to terrorist attack. As retired generals and admirals at the Military Advisory Board recently concluded, a reliable grid is a safer grid
 
• A 100% conversion worldwide and in the U.S. will reduce international conflict by reducing each country’s dependence on energy from other countries. 
 
• The 2050 business cost of a WWS energy, storage, plus long-distance transmission 100% reliable system is similar to the business cost of a 2050 business-as-usual system, but the 2050 social cost (business + health + climate costs) of a WWS system is ~40% that of a business-as-usual system. 
 
• In sum, there is a significant benefit across the board and little downside to a 100% conversion to WWS for all purposes. The main barriers to a conversion are social and political, not technical or economic.