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The Cost Of A Full Transition To Renewables

Net generation by renewable sources across all sectors. Two fastest growing are wind (orange line) and solar (green line)
U.S. Energy Information Administration

Multiple proposals from Democratic presidential candidates are calling for a full transition from fossil fuels to renewables over the next 10 years. Independent analytics firm Wood Mackenzie was interested in the numbers behind those proposals. It found a transition would take closer to 20 to 30 years. Dan Shreve, head of global wind energy research at Wood Mackenzie, co-authored the report.

"We're talking about 1600 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar resources that would need to be procured, sited, permitted and then installed and grid connected," Shreve said, adding all of this would cost $4.5 trillion in new investment - an amount that doesn't surprise him.

Shreve mentioned 1600 GW is the total capacity required to fully transition away from fossil fuels. Current capacity would need to increase tenfold to meet that. Windand solar capacity sit at 164 GW right now.

The Mountain West would not be the center of demand for increased renewables, but it would be a player in generating and supporting new renewables, according to Shreve. Already, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada are among the top ten states for potential wind capacity and Utahis among the fastest growing solar states.

Then there's the support role. "There is a need for some long-haul bulk high voltage transmission to move renewable energy from areas of high resource to areas where there is high load demand," Shreve said.

For example, in our region, that means building the system to transport energy that we produce to the west coast.

Coal generation hit a 47 year low this past April.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. 

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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