Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Most U.S. electricity demand can be met by renewables

A new study shows that up to 80 percent of the U.S. business and home energy demands can be met through the use of renewable energy sources, especially wind and solar power. The main limitation is with energy storage.

In fact, it is theoretically possible to meet the entire U.S. energy demand through renewable sources. However, the 100 percent aspirational target in terms of electrical demand would require huge investment in investment in greater storage capacity and power transmission capabilities. Efficient storage solutions are essential with renewable sources due to the cycle of natural variability.

The assessment of energy comes from a collaborative effort from the University of California, Irvine; the California Institute of Technology; and the Carnegie Institution for Science. The group of scientists analyzed thirty-six years of hourly U.S. weather data (collected during the period 1980 to 2015). This analysis allowed the researchers to understand the primary geophysical barriers in place that would affect supplying electricity to U.S. homes and businesses only using solar and wind energy sources.

One of the researchers, Professor Steven Davis explains to Laboratory Manager magazine: “We looked at the variability of solar and wind energy over both time and space and compared that to U.S. electricity demand.”

He proceeds to outline: “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 electricity demand."

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.

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

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