Alanna Mayham

(CN) — Over 250 U.S. cities, counties and states have pledged to fully adopt renewable energy between 2020 and 2050 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. New research on Thursday, however, indicates that transitioning from fossil fuels will be much harder, if not impossible, for most of those communities over the next 26 years.

The findings come from the journal of Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability, where researchers at Baylor University found that only 20% of the 250 U.S. communities that have pledged to adopt renewable energy sources by 2050 are expected to meet this goal, particularly large ones.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers utilized an “energyshed” framework — a concept the study authors describe as representing a network of power plants and transmission infrastructure necessary to supply electricity to certain communities on an electricity grid. The ability of these communities to transition their power resources would depend on their land, infrastructure, population, profits and environmental impacts.

Under this framework, the researchers analyzed 31 cities comprising 84% of the total population for all 250 communities, including Boston, San Diego and Washington D.C. The results indicated that most cities will only reach 10% of their energy demand by 2050, and, at best, these cities may reach 35% to 65% of their renewable energy goals in the next 20 to 30 years.

“Across the 31 cities present in this study, none are expected to meet their goal of 100% renewable energy based on existing or planned infrastructure development,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The results, the researchers say, underscore the necessity of infrastructure development in the energy sector with intentional planning efforts to make these goals happen — particularly as recent projections from the Energy Information Administration suggest that renewable energy generation must triple to meet a 45% share of energy production in 2050.

But another finding the researchers made indicates that pathways of integrating renewable energy for sustainability goals are often contrary to certain aspects of sustainability.

“The energyshed method shows that while the need for this transition is clear, the best pathways to achieve it are greatly debated,” said lead author Kayla Garrett, a postdoctoral fellow in environmental science at Baylor, in a statement. “Many areas are faced with conflicting sustainability goals such as changes to infrastructure, energy storage, land and resource use, biodiversity, economic development and more. This can lead to ‘analysis paralysis’ which is one of the major blockers for decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The study’s framework also reveals overlap between the needs and goals of neighboring communities and how they can work together, Garrett said. In the study, for example, the researchers found that the 52 communities that have met their electrification goals had roughly 90% fewer people than the cities that have not. They also discovered that the larger cities had drastically different approaches to renewable energy than smaller communities working toward the same goal.

Overall, Garrett said the study’s framework could provide communities with more cooperation for funding, land acquisition, infrastructure, distribution and storage for renewable energy.

“Conversations are needed between those who apply the market approach to supply and demand versus those with sociopolitical approaches,” Garrett said.

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