For the Price of the Iraq War, The U.S. Could Have a 100% Renewable Power System

What Are We Choosing for Our Future?

Wind energy expert Paul Gipe reported this week that – for the amount spent on the Iraq war – the U.S. could be generating 40%-60% of its electricity with renewable energy:

Disregarding the human cost, and disregarding our “other” war in Afghanistan, how much renewable energy could we have built with the money we spent? How far along the road toward the renewable energy transition could we have traveled?

The answer: shockingly far.

Cost of the Iraq War

The war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion through fiscal year 2013, according to Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. That’s trillion, with a “t”. Including future costs for veteran’s care, and so on, raises the cost to $2.2 trillion.

Because the war was financed with debt, we should also include a charge for interest on the debt. The Iraq war’s share of cumulative interest on the US debt through 2053 will raise the total cost of the war to $3.9 trillion.

To weigh what opportunities we lost, we’ll consider two conditions: the direct cost, and the direct cost plus interest.

Renewable Energy Assumptions

*** For this evaluation, I will use a mix of wind and solar.

Why a mix? Because if we want to develop an integrated system that will replace the mix of fossil fuels and nuclear power we use today, we will need a mix of renewable resources as well. Ideally, we would develop our wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass resources simultaneously. However, it is wind and solar that will provide the bulk of new generating capacity. So I’ve simplified this analysis by only considering a mix of wind and solar.


While the cost of solar has declined dramatically, it remains far more expensive than wind generation. Including solar as part of a mix of resources reduces the effective penetration of renewables, but is more realistic and, hence, more conservative than simply estimating how much wind could have been built.


Robert Freehling, a renewables consultant in California, has pointed out that these assumptions are much too conservative.

Wind Yield


Today, yields can range from less than 2,000 kWh per kW for inland locations like those in Germany, to more than 2,500 kWh per kW for windy locales like those in Ireland and Great Britain.


Freehling suggests 2,250 kWh per kW is a more representative yield.

Solar Yield & Cost

Solar yields in Germany vary from a low of 900 kWh per kW of DC capacity in the north to nearly 1,100 kWh per kW in the south.

Similarly, yields in the US vary widely from 1,000 kWh per kW in rainy Seattle to 1,800 kWh per kW in the blistering sun of the desert Southwest. Freehling believes a more representative yield for the US market is 1,200 kWh per kW.

Solar costs continue to plummet. If the US market ever becomes as competitive as the German market, we can expect that average installed cost of ground mounted and roof-mounted systems across the country will fall far below the $5,000 per kW I’ve assumed. Freehling suggests that the cost for a representative cross-section of installation types over the next decade is $3,350 per kW of DC capacity.

What We Lost in Renewable Opportunities

Based on a conservative estimate, the US could have built between a quarter-million to nearly a half-million megawatts of wind energy, and 300,000 to 600,000 megawatts of solar capacity.

For comparison, today there are only 60,000 MW of wind in the US, and a paltry 7,000 MW of solar.

If we had invested the $2.2 trillion in wind and solar, the US would be generating 21% of its electricity with renewable energy. If we had invested the $3.9 trillion that the war in Iraq will ultimately cost, we would generate nearly 40% of our electricity with new renewables. Combined with the 10% of supply from existing hydroelectricity, the US could have surpassed 50% of total renewables in supply.

However, this is a conservative estimate. If we include the reasonable assumptions suggested by Robert Freehling, the contribution by renewables would be even greater.

Freehling’s assumptions raise to as much as 60% the nation’s lost potential contribution by new renewables to US electricity supply by going to war in Iraq. With the addition of existing hydroelectric generation, the opportunity to develop as much as 70% of our nation’s electricity with renewable energy was lost.

And unlike the war in Iraq, which is an expense, the development of renewable energy instead of war would have been an investment in infrastructure at home that would have paid dividends to American citizens for decades to come.

But Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated in 2008 that the Iraq war could cost America up to $5 trillion dollars.

And the Brown University study actually concluded that the Iraq war could end up costing $6 trillion dollars over the next 40 years.

Since $6 trillion is one and a half times as much as the $3.9 trillion estimate used by Gipe and Freehling, that means that the Iraq war money could essentially convert 100% of U.S. power to renewable energy.

True, comparing future interest payments to present renewable energy costs may be comparing apples and oranges.

But given that the nation’s top energy experts point out stunning breakthroughs in energy production, distribution, storage and conservation will drastically lower the costs of alternative energy, that $5-6 trillion could perhaps fund 100% renewable energy production:



And see this, this, this and this.

Moreover, given that war is very harmful for the economy, the costs of the Iraq war including the drag on the economy raises the price tag well above $6 trillion. So 100% of renewable energy funding may be realistic.

It is ironic, indeed, that the Iraq war was largely about oil. When we choose subsidies for conventional energy sources – war or otherwise – we sell our future down the river.

Category: Energy, Think Tank, War/Defense

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

10 Responses to “Iraq War Could Have Paid For 100% Renewable Power Grid”

  1. Expat says:

    Barry, Barry, Barry, you’re not thinking big picture here (oh, the irony). If we had not gone to war in Iraq, what would have become of Halliburton’s profits or GW Bush’s aircraft carrier landing skills? Where would medical science be without all the amazing progress made in severe brain trauma caused by IED’s?

    Your socialist, parochial, naive, and selfish attitude is what is destroying this great country of ours. Next thing you will post some inanity about how we could have free medical care for all Americans if we had not spent the money reducing Afghanistan to rubble. (Well, actually reducing the pre-existing rubble into freer, more capitalistic and democratic rubble!)

    • Uncle Chuck says:

      AND…think of all the cool bombs going off, bullets flying, the soldiers getting shot, some even killed, the survivors coming back minus arms, legs, minds, the suicides caused by PTSD! War is FUN (for those of us who don’t have to fight it) and does GREAT things for our collective egos!!!

  2. Init4good says:

    Expat is correct, and just think of how backwards our air vehicle technology would be without that Afghan war. We’d probably still be using MANNED aircraft to bomb and kill people, not to mention we would not have been able to capture and kill Sad am and Usama, and would have to bear the shame of not retaliating for attempts on Poppy Bush’s life, and the destruction of various WTC buildings. In short, our collective egos would have undergone a near-irreversible shrinkage, but now that we have justly enacted revenge , we can once again hold our heads high knowing that no matter what it costs, the U.S. will get you, sooner or later, if her ego is threatened or attacked.

  3. Shocker: Solar Panels Could Destroy U.S. Utilities, According to U.S. Utilities
    April 14th, 2013

    Via: Grist:

    Solar power and other distributed renewable energy technologies could lay waste to U.S. power utilities and burn the utility business model, which has remained virtually unchanged for a century, to the ground.

    That is not wild-eyed hippie talk. It is the assessment of the utilities themselves.

    Back in January, the Edison Electric Institute — the (typically stodgy and backward-looking) trade group of U.S. investor-owned utilities — released a report [PDF] that, as far as I can tell, went almost entirely without notice in the press. That’s a shame. It is one of the most prescient and brutally frank things I’ve ever read about the power sector. It is a rare thing to hear an industry tell the tale of its own incipient obsolescence….
    “Wind?”, on the other hand, I’d, rather have Birds.

    and, really, past the rest of the Logical Fallacies, and their insistence of keeping ‘you’ “on the Grid”, We should, definitely, not, even, bother to /think/ about..

  4. rwboomtown says:

    Agreed. One of the biggest blunders in history of US. Curious how much money has gone toward our current war mongering efforts under the current administration and what that would have paid for?

  5. rbblum says:

    It wasn’t the ‘war’ that was so bloody expensive . . . . but the initiative to ‘build a nation’ .

  6. 873450 says:

    The war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion through fiscal year 2013 … Including future costs for veteran’s care, and so on, raises the cost to $2.2 trillion … cumulative interest on the US debt through 2053 will raise the total cost of the war to $3.9 trillion … economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated in 2008 that the Iraq war could cost America up to $5 trillion … Brown University study actually concluded that the Iraq war could end up costing $6 trillion dollars over the next 40 years.

    Too much pessimism. We freed Iraq. The Iraqi journalist throwing his shoes at President Bush during his farewell press conference could never do that if we didn’t free him. On the home front our unpaid war debt justifies cutting social security and medicare. It’s how you look at it.

  7. constantnormal says:

    Mission Accomplished.

  8. James Shannon says:

    OK – spend Trillion$ to kill people for oil – or – spend Trillion$ on renewable energy!
    Easy answer for the Stupid CentaMillionaire$- Kill People and Keep america Dependent on OIL and continue to polute the Air we all breathe!
    “In America you have the right to be stupid” – John Kerry Secrtary of Defense and a CentaMillionaire – one of the Stupid people making decisions for the “Little People” aka the poor and Stupid Americans!
    Sooner or later the “stupid people” the Kerry’s of this worls have contempt for, are going to realize that having a lot of money does NOT make you smart of honorable!
    Clearly the CentaMillionaire$ and the leadership they continue to support is failing We the People, the “Stupid Americans” John Kerry is talking about!
    The CentaMillionaire$ better pray the Stupid stay stupid because when the realize they been dooped they are really going to one pissed off block of stupid voters!

  9. linux07 says:

    California has a population of about 38 million and a GDP of about 1,890 billion a year.
    Iraq has a population of around 36 million people and a GDP of about 115 billion a year
    plus Iraq has a lot more natural resources.

    So it’s reasonable to think that the impact of dictatorship on Iraq has been to cost the Iraqis
    and the global economy over 1.5 trillion dollars annually.

    You could build a “renewable energy grid” 15X larger by getting rid of Saddam 30 years ago.