Here's What It Would Take For Florida to Run on 100 Percent Renewable Energy

Think oil and gas drilling and nuclear power plants are only way to power South Florida’s economy? Think again.

A group of Stanford scholars say they've proven that it is “technically and economically feasible” to run Florida’s economy 100 percent on renewable energy. And they’ve already done all the hard work for politicians, mapping out exactly how to achieve such a shift by 2050.

“People aren’t aware of what’s possible,” says Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering Mark Jacobson, who led the research. “But when they become aware, their whole mindset changes. You’re not actually going to have all these problems people claim you’re going to have.”

The research is part of a paper published in May in the journal Energy & Environmental Science that presents road maps for how each of the 50 states can transform their energy infrastructures to be powered by wind, water and solar by 2050. The shift would completely eliminate present day greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions from energy, grow jobs and stabilize energy prices, according to the paper.

Being that Florida is one of the most sunlight rich states in the country, it should come as no surprise that a road map for Florida includes shifting to an energy mix dominated — at 79 percent — by solar energy. Setting aside for a moment how unlikely this it to occur in the short-term, due to the ongoing ugly fight over solar power in Florida, let’s look at the projected energy mix:

The largest single chunk of the total (42.7 percent) would come from utility solar photovoltaic (PV) plants — a large-scale, “solar farm” style utility system. This energy source dominates because it’s the lowest cost, Jacobson says — “as cheap as natural gas." 

“You just put it on a field, thousands of them together,” he says. “When you do things on a large scale, you don’t have to pay people to install them on everyone’s roof and the cost of labor is less.”

A proposed 15.5 percent of Florida’s renewable grid would come from residential rooftop PV, and 10.8 percent from commercial/government rooftop PV, meaning that panels would be placed on existing rooftops or elevated canopies above parking lots, highways and other structures. Additional energy would come from offshore wind (14.9 percent); concentrated solar power (CSP) plants (10 percent), which use mirrors or lenses to concentrate sunlight; onshore wind (5 percent); and wave devices (1 percent).

The plan also involves “electrification” of everything that currently runs partially or entirely on fossil fuels — including transportation, heating/cooling, and industry.

Sure, the road map is ambitious, but it proves the change is possible, says Sarah Shanley Hope, the executive director of the Solutions Project, which is working to accelerate the transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. Some states, such as New York, are already adopting much greater reliance on renewables. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State Energy Plan, released earlier this month, champions affordability of clean energy for 100 percent of people.

In Florida, the shift to 100 percent wind-water-solar would create over 500,000 new jobs, according to researchers, and result in thousands of dollars in savings annually per person.

And Shanley Hope says it’s important to point out that none of this technology is actually out of reach. All the tech is ready. So what’s stopping plans from being implemented?

“Arizona is the only other state that has more sun than Florida,” she says. “And yet Florida has the most regulatory and political barriers to allowing citizens to access that sun to power their homes, businesses and schools. We need to ensure choice and access to affordable technologies.”  

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Jessica Weiss