Wind and solar power could meet four-fifths of US electricity demand, study finds

The United States could reliably meet about 80 percent of its electricity demand with solar and wind power generation, according to scientists at the University of California, Irvine; the California Institute of Technology; and the Carnegie Institution for Science.

However, meeting 100 percent of electricity demand with only solar and energy would require storing several weeks' worth of electricity to compensate for the natural variability of these two resources, the researchers said.

"The sun sets, and the wind doesn't always blow," noted Steven Davis, UCI associate professor of Earth system science and co-author of a renewable energy study published today in the journal Energy & Environmental Science. "If we want a reliable power system based on these resources, how do we deal with their daily and seasonal changes?"

The team analyzed 36 years of hourly U.S. weather data (1980 to 2015) to understand the fundamental geophysical barriers to supplying electricity with only solar and wind energy.

"We looked at the variability of solar and over both time and space and compared that to U.S. electricity demand," Davis said. "What we found is that we could reliably get around 80 percent of our electricity from these sources by building either a continental-scale transmission network or facilities that could store 12 hours' worth of the nation's ."

The researchers said that such expansion of transmission or storage capabilities would mean very substantial - but not inconceivable - investments. They estimated that the cost of the new transmission lines required, for example, could be hundreds of billions of dollars. In comparison, storing that much electricity with today's cheapest batteries would likely cost more than a trillion dollars, although prices are falling.

Other forms of energy stockpiling, such as pumping water uphill to later flow back down through hydropower generators, are attractive but limited in scope. The U.S. has a lot of water in the East but not much elevation, with the opposite arrangement in the West.

Fossil fuel-based electricity production is responsible for about 38 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions - CO2 pollution being the major cause of global climate change. Davis said he is heartened by the progress that has been made and the prospects for the future.

"The fact that we could get 80 percent of our power from wind and solar alone is really encouraging," he said. "Five years ago, many people doubted that these resources could account for more than 20 or 30 percent."

But beyond the 80 percent mark, the amount of energy storage required to overcome seasonal and weather variabilities increases rapidly. "Our work indicates that low-carbon-emission power sources will be needed to complement what we can harvest from the wind and sun until storage and transmission capabilities are up to the job," said co-author Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science. "Options could include nuclear and hydroelectric power generation, as well as managing demand."


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More information: Energy & Environmental Science (2018). DOI: 10.1039/c7ee03029k
Provided by University of California, Irvine
Citation: Wind and solar power could meet four-fifths of US electricity demand, study finds (2018, February 27) retrieved 16 December 2018 from https://techxplore.com/news/2018-02-solar-power-four-fifths-electricity-demand.html
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Feb 27, 2018
80% is a good start.

Feb 27, 2018
If there are no elevations near sea water, why not construct Inverse Pyramids (Don't take it literally - you sure get the picture) of Polymers with lake like areas atop them ? So, instead of fouling up the air with drilling for oil from seabottom or by Shale gas fracking..why not Pump up Water to their top during day time and when Wind is blowing....then use it as a Hydro-Electric Project using Turbines ?

Feb 27, 2018
then why haven't we? because it is insane, that's why.
how many birds will die from all the wind farms?
$ trillions?
just because something is possible, doesn't mean it should be done.

Feb 27, 2018
Not in my backyard. WSJ 23 Feb 2018 "New Hampshire's rejection of a planned 192-mile [hydroelectric] power line from Canada to Massachusetts is the latest example of just how hard it is to build large energy infrastructure in New England, even as states struggle to meet pressing electricity needs." Mass. will have to substitute hydrocarbons for clean energy. New York is playing the same game.

Such a hypocritical situation, green vs. green and no one can compromise.

Batteries not included.

Feb 27, 2018
Not in my backyard. WSJ 23 Feb 2018 "New Hampshire's rejection of a planned 192-mile [hydroelectric] power line from Canada to Massachusetts is the latest example of just how hard it is to build large energy infrastructure in New England, even as states struggle to meet pressing electricity needs." Mass. will have to substitute hydrocarbons for clean energy. New York is playing the same game.

Such a hypocritical situation, green vs. green and no one can compromise.

Batteries not included.


Except that you idiotically classify hydroelectric as "green", and therefore "environmentally friendly", which it most certainly isn't, which is at least part of the reason why many local and state utlity districts balk at adopting its construction.

Now, piss off.

Feb 27, 2018
As always the lowest hanging fruit is conservation and yet we would much rather go for the finicky gadget solution every time.

Everyone in this country balks at the idea of time of day power restrictions but wait until we've tried living without power for a few hours or days or months as in Puerto Rico and then suddenly the insistence on being able to run a load of laundry through the dryer at 6PM will seem like less of an issue.

Feb 27, 2018
.... and unicorns are real.

Feb 27, 2018

Except that you idiotically classify hydroelectric as "green", and therefore "environmentally friendly", which it most certainly isn't, which is at least part of the reason why many local and state utlity districts balk at adopting its construction.

Not me, it is the useful idiots of the green tyranny who define it as green, depending which way the wind is blowing.

Hydro=Bad

Corn Ethanol=Criminal, however it is renewable whatever the collateral cost. Some of the AGW, CC, and environmental wackos should start to learn and think.

Feb 28, 2018

"...how many birds will die from all the wind farms?
$ trillions? ..."


No, that is just a stupid made up myth. Vastly more birds will continue to be killed by colliding with trees, houses, cars, airplanes, sea waves and mountains and yet nobody is against trees because of this.
In addition, far more birds will be killed by the extra global warming and pollution if we didn't have wind turbines.
Lets think rationally about this just for once and stop being STUPID.

Feb 28, 2018
Studies never fully take into account environmental impacts(destruction of natural landscapes, disruption of wildlife habitats, massacre of millions of birds and other endangered species), and also that almost all hydro/solar/wind components are manufactured/transported/installed/recycled by fossil-fueled machines.

Feb 28, 2018
So if this unicorn technology were ever developed, then Yes, we could use renewables for more of our energy needs. Energy storage has always been the problem.

Right now the largest energy storage facility in the world is able to supply 100 MWHr, not hundred Gigawatt hours or more needed for something like this article suggests.

We can't power the grid on wishful thinking.

Feb 28, 2018
"...So if this unicorn technology were ever developed, then Yes, we could use renewables for more of our energy needs. Energy storage has always been the problem.
...
We can't power the grid on wishful thinking.
..."

ab3a

NO, they have rationally calculated that about 80 percent of US electricity demand can be met with solar and wind power generation WITHOUT energy storage and that is NOT "wishful thinking".
If you deny the validity of the calculations, show us all your alternative maths calculation here that disproves theirs...

Feb 28, 2018
"...Studies never fully take into account environmental impacts(destruction of natural landscapes, disruption of wildlife habitats, massacre of millions of birds and other endangered species), and also that almost all hydro/solar/wind components are manufactured/transported/installed/recycled by fossil-fueled machines...."


WillieWard

NO, studies generally do take into account environmental impacts just fine. It is people like you that never take into account environmental impacts of irresponsibly doing nothing to reduce our unsustainable and damaging fossil-fuel usage.

Feb 28, 2018
Humy, a continental grid would not help in the middle of the night, nor would it do well in the middle of winter when days are short --and that presumes that transmission and distribution losses are reasonable. Where is your base load power going to come from in the middle of the night? And further, how much energy are you going to spend building the damned thing?

The study is not based upon peak energy usage or diurnal consumption patterns. It was an hour by hour analysis. There are many things that an hour by hour analysis glosses over. You don't engineer a grid for average power. You engineer it for peak usage.

This study makes wishful thinking look respectable.

Feb 28, 2018
"...doing nothing to reduce our unsustainable and damaging fossil-fuel usage..."
Trillions of dollars spent worldwide and intermittent renewables are "doing nothing to reduce our unsustainable and damaging fossil-fuel usage", e.g. Energiewende, wind and solar are just providing "greenwashing" for coal and gas industries in order displace carbon-free nuclear power.
"While nuclear and hydro are strongly correlated with decarbonization of energy at aggregated national levels, solar and wind are not."
"The ones that went with nuclear and hydro decarbonized. The ones that went with wind and solar failed and keep failing."
"In a world of limited hydro, solar and wind won't scale."
https://www.youtu...iSNhAJqU

Mar 01, 2018
"...Humy, a continental grid would not help in the middle of the night,... "

Why not? Doesn't wind or hydroelectric power work in any country at night?

"...nor would it do well in the middle of winter when days are short ..."

Why not? Doesn't wind or hydroelectric power work in any country in winter time?
You make no sense.

Mar 01, 2018

"...Trillions of dollars spent worldwide and intermittent renewables are "doing nothing to reduce our unsustainable and damaging fossil-fuel usage", ..."


That is extremely obviously and simply not true. OF COURSE reducing our fossil-fuel usage would reduce the damage from our unsustainable and damaging fossil-fuel usage!
You make no sense.

And, just for the record, I am NOT against also using nuclear power to that end. So you can stop that straw man crap.

Mar 02, 2018
"...Trillions of dollars spent worldwide and intermittent renewables are "doing nothing to reduce our unsustainable and damaging fossil-fuel usage", ..."
https://www.ndtv....-1818803

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