Renewable energy could provide 99.9% of all power by 2030

March 22, 2013

It is commonly asserted that even with massive investments, solar, wind and other renewable energy technologies could not possibly meet all of the energy needs of any industrialized economy. However, a recent study done by Budischak et al. debunks this piece of conventional wisdom. The study suggests that with an optimized energy production and storage network, up to 99.9% of all energy needs could be met using nothing more than currently existing renewable energy technologies–and at roughly the same cost of conventional energy production. The abstract of the study report reads as follows:

We model many combinations of renewable electricity sources (inland wind, offshore wind, and photovoltaics) with electrochemical storage (batteries and fuel cells), incorporated into a large grid system (72 GW). The purpose is twofold: 1) although a single renewable generator at one site produces intermittent power, we seek combinations of diverse renewables at diverse sites, with storage, that are not intermittent and satisfy need a given fraction of hours. And 2) we seek minimal cost, calculating true cost of electricity without subsidies and with inclusion of external costs. Our model evaluated over 28 billion combinations of renewables and storage, each tested over 35,040 h (four years) of load and weather data. We find that the least cost solutions yield seemingly excessive generation capacity—at times, almost three times the electricity needed to meet electrical load. This is because diverse renewable generation and the excess capacity together meet electric load with less storage, lowering total system cost. 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.


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