US cities are going to struggle to green up their act by 2050

Instead of 100% renewables, most will reach around a tenth of that

Two-hundred and fifty US cities have committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 in the face of slow global progress. However, researchers have now concluded most will fail and are likely to meet just 10 percent of their targets in the next 30 years.

The study, conducted by researchers from Baylor University in Texas and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, examined a subset of 31 of the 250 US localities selected from the 198 that have yet to reach their goals, including San Diego, Boston, Washington DC, Louisville KY, and others.

"Across the 31 cities present in this study, none are expected to meet their goal of 100 percent renewable based on existing or planned infrastructure development," the team found. "Even in the four best case scenarios developed, cities appear to cap off renewable energy penetration between 35 percent and 65 percent in the next two decades."

While 52 cities have met their electrification goals, for example, 198 cities and localities failed to meet targets set in the early 2000s, the report notes. In other words, they've been working on this for a long time and don't have a whole lot to show for it. yet

None of the 31 cities selected for the study are even halfway toward meeting all their goals despite being nearly halfway through their time frames for doing so, the researchers found. To further hammer home the severity of the issue, the 31 cities chosen for the study represent 84 percent of the population, meaning most of the shortcomings are in heavily populated areas where energy needs have risen in recent years, putting these lefty goals further at risk of not being met as electrification drives additional energy consumption.

The findings looked at the localities with a relatively new method of considering power distribution known as an "energyshed." Akin to a watershed, energysheds are regions served by networks of power plants and transmission infrastructure that, while often overlapping, can nonetheless be divided into distinct energy footprints.

Based on that, said Baylor postdoctoral environmental science fellow and study author Dr Kayla Garrett, the researchers hope their work can posit a way through the "analysis paralysis" that has paused many renewable projects. 

"Many areas are faced with conflicting sustainability goals such as changes to infrastructure, energy storage, land and resource use, biodiversity, economic development, and more," Garrett said

The team notes that renewable energy transitions aren't just straining the grid, which they most definitely are, but also put pressure on environmental resources and could lead to "irreversible and significant harm to ecosystems, biodiversity and water availability." Haphazard, regional energy transitions are likely to only make these effects worse, the report notes. 

Energysheds can show communities how they can work together to advance renewable energy transitions, Garrett added, describing the results as able to "foster cooperation for funding, land acquisition, infrastructure, distribution, and storage for renewable energy."

What can be done, you ask? Garrett and her team have some suggestions, but even then the road out of the renewable transition quagmire seems rough.

"Successful energy transitions require reframing the issue as not one that is purely technical, economic, social or political but that is interdisciplinary and requires collaboration and communication across multiple sectors," the team concluded.

"Conversations are needed between those who apply the market approach to supply and demand versus those with sociopolitical approaches," Garrett added. ®

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