US Power Generation Could Be Mostly Wind and Solar By 2030

According to a new study, the United States is capable of slashing greenhouse gas emissions from power production by up to 78 percent below 1990 levels within 15 years, all while meeting increasing demand.

The findings indicate that a rapid, affordable energy transformation from fossil fuels to renewable sources is entirely possible in the US.


Image credit: University of Colorado Boulder

The study, which was conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado Boulder, used a sophisticated mathematical model to evaluate future cost, demand, generation and transmission scenarios. Results found that if current energy-technology trends continue, renewables could provide most of the nations electricity by 2030 at costs similar to today.

“Our research shows a transition to a reliable, low-carbon, electrical generation and transmission system can be accomplished with commercially available technology within 15 years,” said Alexander MacDonald of the NOAA, co-lead author of a paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Although improvements in renewable resource technology continues, it will take time to relieve the anxiety of utility companies. Currently, utilities invest in surplus energy to back up renewable energy generation in case of outages.

Scientists believe that as this problem is addressed with a more encompassing renewable power infrastructure, that costs will likely accelerate down further.

Even if renewable energy costs are more than experts predict, the model still produced a scenario where emission were cut by 33% from 1990 levels. The most efficient model (that being a system with reasonable costs and the lowest possible emissions) cut emissions by 78% from 1990 levels, costing 10 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). By comparison, in 2012 electricity cost 9.4 cents per kWh.

By analyzing the models, researchers discovered that one important key to controlling costs was upgrading the transmission infrastructure for renewable resources. The model made use of what’s known as a high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) transmission grid. These transmission lines, which are in use around the world now, reduce energy losses during long distance energy transmissions.

And it appears that the new findings are gaining the attention of experts in the field.

Stanford University’s Mark Jacobson said, “It shows that intermittent renewables plus transmission can eliminate most fossil-fuel electricity while matching power demand at lower cost than a fossil fuel-based grid — even before storage is considered.”

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