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.

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  • nveric

    And, who voted for going to war?
    When was the only procedure for making war legal, followed?

    Where’s the OUTRAGE America?
    It’s a hell of a lot of money People, doesn’t it bother anyone that your god damned fucking federal government screwed you and most everyone you care about with their UN-checked aggressive and illegal machinations?

    ( Why is stupidity, ignorance, and insanity so normal these days? )

    • ColdWarBaby

      Because people have become so susceptible to indoctrination that willful ignorance has become the new intellectualism.

    • 1) The president(s) voted. 2) Don’t you know: ANYTHING and EVERYTHING is legal when the president does it? 3) Well, never of course. The whole procedure got left far behind during the dotcom boom when anyone could fall over and find a job (Some are still wondering WTF happened there). 4) No, because too many of us are on food stamps and living in their cars or are being processed through the court system based on false accusations or vague federal laws so that we can be fed into the maw of the prison industrial complex. It’s hard to be “bothered” with what the government is doing when one can’t find a job that pays a living wage and when those in the upper echelons of government and the financial sectors have a daisy-chain of mutual gratification going (“You can fool most of the people most of the time and jerk the rest off,” as Robin Williams once said); 5) Stupidity, ignorance and insanity are normal because of a) population density (too many people living too close together like caged animals); b) toxins in the environment and endocrine disruptors in the food supply; c) mass consumption psychotropic medications and other pharmaceuticals that are stunting our wills, our thought processes and our emotional reactions. Not taking any of those? They’re in the water supply in some places.

      All of this is self-correcting once the government is done spending other people’s money. It will all collapse and not even the people that created the situation will be immune to the effects. The only thing that will be left in the not-too-distant future many of us is that one may be able to conjure a warm, fuzzy sense of Schadenfreude like that which comes from watching a vegan being told she just ate chicken.

      Best advice: Enjoy the moments. Love your family and friends. Realize that nothing is permanent.

  • Casper

    Faced with the choice between spending $X trillion on an idiotic junk war by the loony right and $X trillion on idiotic junk energy by the loony left, which nightmare scenario would you expect patriotic Americans to select? Its a no-brainer!

    • ColdWarBaby

      What is your solution to the energy problem?

      • amerikagulag

        Here here! ^5.

        Tesla already solved the energy question. JP Morgan and his ilk took care of that notion.

        I hope folks don’t believe the energy problem is just a natural outflow of supply and demand. If so, they’re amazingly blind.

        In 1976 someone in california put a 1.5 hp electric motor, a car battery and a solar panel on a Moped and the thing did 55mph. IN 1976! That’s 40 years ago. And where are we now?

        Also in the 70’s inventor Howard Johnson perfected his magnet motor.

        Free energy from magnets. I bet you heard about that on FOXNews! No? I’m so surprised.

        There is no “energy problem”. It’s a created and sustained. for profit condition which PTB perpetuate in order to control. Don’t kid yourselves. Get to work in your garages and home labs! The only person who is going to solve the ‘energy problem’ is YOU!

        • ColdWarBaby

          There’s no doubt that many advanced technologies that threaten the oil, coal, gas and nuclear industries have been suppressed, by whatever means necessary.

          Look what they did as recently as 2003 with the killing of the EV1 project.

          It’s not unlike the suppression of organic, multicropping in favour of GMOs and monocropping.

          The ruling class has an agenda of their own and it does not include promoting the general welfare.

  • Dave Kimble

    I agree that the current system is stuffed, but the transition to wind and solar cannot be done with Dollars – it can only be done with Energy. You have to think of how much ENERGY it takes (from our current rate of production of energy) to build all those wind turbine and solar panel factories, extract the raw materials from the ground, transport them to the factories, make the panels, and transport them to their ultimate locations and install them. That’s on top of everything else we are currently using energy for.

    When you think of it like that, and lay it out in a spreadsheet over the next 25-50 years, you will realise that there is not enough energy available to complete the transition to renewable energy. If we had started 30 years ago, while fossil energy was still plentiful (and also cheap), we could have done it. But with Peak Crude Oil already passed, Peak Crude+Condensate+NGPLs+ethanol+biodiesel peaking now, and Peak Fossils less than a decade away, the relationship between Dollars and real available Energy will not hold. So its pointless to do the calculations in Dollar terms.

    And where is the energy going to come from to transition our transport system to use electricity ? And the Third World – who is going to give them the energy to pull themselves out of their poverty, when oil is ~$100 per barrel during a worldwide recession ?

  • Kevin the 1% Teabagger

    And if you want to make certain history doesn’t repeat itself, remember Hillary Clinton voted for the war as Senator of New York.

    • Don’t choke on that foodie

      Votes were cast based on flawed or misleading intelligence provided by the Bush administration.

      • Foodie for thought

        She voted for the Iraq war, then hit the reset button on the cold war. Next.

  • Tomoiaga Bogdan

    Interesting indeed. What about a Pareto based approach ( )?