Climate & Energy

How to power America with renewables on the cheap: Build a shit ton of wind and solar capacity

ShutterstockWind and solar will do the trick, but we’ll need a whole lot of them.

America could be powered almost entirely with wind turbines and solar systems by 2030 at a cost comparable to what we’re spending for dirty power today, a new study finds. The necessary approach would surprise most people, and it would generate enough economic activity to make any capitalist drool: Build, build, build … and then build some more.

From Midwest Energy News:

The analysis … challenges the common notion that wind and solar power need to be paired with fossil fuel or nuclear generators, so utilities can meet electricity demand when it’s not windy or sunny.

The paper instead proposes building out a “seemingly excessive” amount of wind and solar generation capacity — two to three times the grid’s actual peak load. By spreading that generation across a wide enough geographic area, Rust Belt utilities could get virtually all of their electricity from renewables in 2030, at a cost comparable to today’s prices, it says.

For the study, published in the Journal of Power Sources, researchers used a model to evaluate the cost effectiveness and reliability of tens of billions of combinations of renewable energy generation and storage capacity. They found:

At 2030 technology costs and with excess electricity displacing natural gas, we find that the electric system can be powered 90%–99.9% of hours entirely on renewable electricity, at costs comparable to today’s—but only if we optimize the mix of generation and storage technologies. …

We find that 90% of hours are covered most cost-effectively by a system that generates from renewables 180% the electrical energy needed by load, and 99.9% of hours are covered by generating almost 290% of need. Only [9 to 72 hours] of storage were required to cover 99.9% of hours of load over four years. So much excess generation of renewables is a new idea, but it is not problematic or inefficient, any more than it is problematic to build a thermal power plant requiring fuel input at 250% of the electrical output, as we do today.

The findings support a growing awareness of the potential for renewable energy to power America — and a rejection of doomsayers and fossil fuel executives who say we must keep propping ourselves up with coal, natural gas, and oil.

So keep those wind and solar farms coming, America. And throw in a few batteries too.