Is It Possible To Live In A 100% Renewable Environment In The Us?

Is it possible to live in a 100% renewable environment in the US?

With growing concerns over climate change and energy security, there is increasing interest in the possibility of transitioning the United States to 100% renewable energy. The idea of powering the entire U.S. economy solely with renewable resources like wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal and biomass is an exciting but daunting proposition. While renewable energy has seen impressive growth in recent years, major hurdles remain in increasing capacity and overhauling energy infrastructure across the country.

This article will explore the opportunities and challenges involved in moving the U.S. to an entirely renewable energy system. We’ll look at the current state of renewable energy in America, analyze the feasibility and timeline for achieving 100% renewables, and consider how everyday life might need to change in a 100% renewable world. There are dissenting opinions on whether 100% renewables is achievable for a large and energy-hungry country like the United States. By exploring the full breadth of this issue, we’ll dig into one of the most hotly debated and consequential questions regarding America’s energy future.

Defining 100% Renewable

The term “100% renewable energy” refers to powering all electricity, heating, cooling, and transportation with renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass. It means generating 100% of total energy demand from renewable sources only, with no use of fossil fuels.

Achieving 100% renewable energy does not necessarily mean that all energy must come from renewables at every moment. It allows for using some fossil fuels to fill gaps when renewable sources are not sufficient, as long as fossil fuels are offset by additional renewable generation over time so that total fossil fuel use averages out to zero over a year. There can also be trade of renewable energy credits to account for imbalances. The key is that on an annual net basis, all energy comes from renewables.

Some key things to understand about 100% renewable energy claims:

  • It refers to 100% renewable electricity production over a full year, not at every moment.
  • Back-up energy sources like natural gas may be used at times, but offset by renewables.
  • Trading of renewable energy credits can account for imbalances.
  • On a net annual basis across all sectors, 100% of energy production is from renewables.

In summary, 100% renewable means powering our entire energy system from renewable sources like wind and solar, allowing for flexibility but requiring fossil fuels to be completely phased out over time.


Current Renewable Energy Use

Renewable energy accounts for about 20% of electricity generation in the United States as of 2021. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2021 renewable energy provided about 12.9% of total U.S. energy consumption and about 20% of electricity generation. The main renewable energy sources are hydroelectric power at 7.5%, wind at 2.9%, solar at 2.3%, geothermal at 0.4%, and biomass at 4.8%. Overall, renewable energy generation has been increasing in recent years. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that since 2000, renewable electricity generation has nearly quadrupled.

Benefits of 100% Renewable Energy

Transitioning to 100% renewable energy would dramatically reduce air pollution and related health issues. Fossil fuels like coal and gas emit high levels of pollutants when burned, contributing to smog, respiratory disease, and climate change. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (, renewable sources like solar and wind produce little to no global warming emissions or air pollutants. Increasing renewable energy to 100% would eliminate a major source of pollution, improving public health and reducing healthcare costs.

Challenges to Achieving 100%

Transitioning to 100% renewable energy faces several challenges. One major barrier is the high upfront costs associated with building new large-scale renewable energy projects like wind and solar farms. According to research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), reaching 80% renewable electricity in the U.S. could require over $400 billion in capital investments between now and 2030 [1]. Building new transmission lines to connect renewable energy resources would also add to costs.

Another hurdle is overcoming the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. Fossil fuels currently make up about 80% of U.S. energy consumption according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration [2]. Phasing out fossil fuel use will require changes in electricity generation, transportation, industry, buildings, and more. This energy transition will take time, investment, and coordinated policies.

In addition, most renewable sources like wind and solar are weather-dependent and generate variable output that does not align perfectly with electricity demand. New technologies like battery storage can help balance supply and demand, but would add costs. The variability of renewable resources also makes grid management more complex.

States Leading the Way

Several U.S. states are leading the transition to renewable energy. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the top states for renewable energy as a percentage of total electricity generation in 2021 were Vermont at 97.9%, Maine at 92.6%, Idaho at 89.1%, and Washington at 78.5% [1]. These high percentages are largely due to hydropower, which accounts for most of the renewable energy generation in these states.

For non-hydro renewables like solar and wind, the leading states are Iowa at 57.5% of total generation, Kansas at 48.5%, Oklahoma at 43.1%, South Dakota at 41.6%, and Texas at 26.9% in 2021 [2]. The plains states of the Midwest have excellent wind resources that they have tapped into to transition their electricity generation. According to the American Clean Power Association, Texas produces the most wind energy of any state, generating over 30% of the total U.S. wind power in 2020 [3]. Solar power leaders include California, which accounts for over 40% of the nation’s installed solar capacity.

Many states have set renewable energy targets to continue expanding their renewable energy share, such as California targeting 100% clean electricity by 2045 and New York targeting 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040. With federal support and advancing technologies, other states may also achieve very high levels of renewables in the coming decades.




Federal Policy Needed

To enable the transition to 100% renewable energy, the federal government needs to establish supportive policies at the national level. In 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order 14057 directing federal agencies to achieve 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050 (White House, 2021). The order lays out a Federal Sustainability Plan to meet these goals through renewable energy procurement, building upgrades, fleet electrification, and more (Office of Federal Sustainability, n.d.). In April 2021, the General Services Administration also committed to using 100% renewable electricity by 2025 (GSA, 2021). The federal government can lead by example and use its immense purchasing power to accelerate the renewable transition.

However, executive action alone is not enough. Comprehensive legislation is needed to enact renewable standards, carbon pricing, clean energy tax credits, grid infrastructure investments, and more. The federal government needs to establish stable, long-term policies to fully decarbonize the energy system and make the dream of 100% renewable energy a reality nationwide.

Lifestyle Changes

Achieving 100% renewable energy in the U.S. will require changes to many aspects of our daily lives. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, consumer habits and behaviors are a major contributor to carbon emissions, so lifestyle changes will be an essential part of the transition ( Some key changes individuals can make include:

Transportation – Walking, biking, public transport, and electric vehicles powered by renewables can dramatically reduce carbon emissions from gas-powered private vehicles. Carpooling and reducing non-essential trips also help.

Home Energy Use – Switching to 100% renewable utility providers, installing solar panels, improving insulation, and upgrading to energy efficient appliances cut home energy emissions.

Diet – Reducing meat consumption, buying local and organic foods, and reducing food waste diminishes the large carbon footprint of industrial agriculture.

Consumption Habits – Repairing rather than replacing consumer goods, buying secondhand, renting instead of purchasing, and minimalism all reduce manufacturing emissions.

While these changes represent a shift from current lifestyles, they are achievable, especially if renewable energy continues becoming more affordable and accessible. With commitment from individuals, businesses, and government, the transition to 100% renewable energy can transform consumer habits to be more sustainable.

Is 100% Renewable Possible?

Some case studies show achieving 100% renewable electricity in the US by 2050 is feasible. However, there are considerable challenges. Renewables like wind and solar are intermittent – they generate power when the wind blows or sun shines. Energy storage and transmission would need major upgrades to balance supply and demand. Building enough wind turbines and solar panels would also require huge investments. According to studies, $4.5 trillion in capital investment would be needed to overhaul the electricity sector alone.

The good news is many states are already making progress. As of 2021, 20% of US electricity came from renewables. States like California, Hawaii, and New Mexico are targeting 100% clean energy by 2045-2050. Bold federal policies like carbon pricing and clean energy incentives could accelerate the transition.

In conclusion, achieving 100% renewable energy in the US is ambitious but possible with political will, technological innovation, massive investments, and public support for clean energy.


While the goal of 100% renewable energy across the U.S. may seem lofty and out of reach today, the dramatic decreases in costs of renewables and energy storage as well as ambitious state and local policies show that reaching 100% remains technically and economically possible. However, it will require further commitment from policymakers at the state and federal levels along with changes in consumer behaviors and infrastructure. Key policies like clean energy standards, carbon pricing, and renewable portfolio standards can accelerate this transition. At the same time, further advances in renewable technologies and energy efficiency along with grid modernization and storage will continue driving down costs while increasing feasibility.

With sustained leadership and action from policymakers, businesses, communities and individuals, a 100% renewable energy U.S. could go from vision to reality within the coming decades. While challenges remain, the benefits for American citizens and the environment continue making this bold goal worth pursuing.

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