The US could reach 90% clean electricity supply within 15 years with reduced wholesale energy prices up to 10% if effectively planned and implemented. A combination of strong government policies and increasingly cheap solar, wind and battery storage technologies could feasibly deliver this unthinkable target. Also, without robust policy reforms, most of the potential to reduce carbon emissions and increase jobs will not be realized.
Scientists say we must cut global carbon emissions in half by 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate impacts and fortunately decarbonizing the grid went from a solar lovers pipe dream to something many major American utilities have committed to. The new study, from UC Berkeley and GridLab, raises the stakes considerably. By using updated cost figures for wind, solar and batteries, the researchers found that it will be economically feasible to power a reliable grid by 2035, while only depending on natural gas for 10% of annual electricity production. Previous studies concluded, either we need to wait until 2050 to decarbonize or the bills will go up if you decarbonize.
At the same time, it notes, battery energy storage has also become a viable option for cost-effectively integrating high levels of wind and solar generation into electricity grids. Still, the task is a big one. To get to the 90% mark by 2035, the report estimates that 1,100 GW of new wind and solar generation would have to be built, averaging about 70GW per year. Without policy measures, only a 55% clean grid would be reached by 2035 under ‘business as usual’, which counts the added renewable capacity implied by existing state-level renewables mandates.
What about the coal-gas fired plants?
The 2035 target also allows sufficient time for most coal and gas plants to retire and recover their fixed costs, thereby avoiding risk of stranded costs for consumers and investors. Cheaper, cleaner power without loss of reliability may sound too good to be true. But that is what the study’s numbers suggest: Clean energy has become so cheap, all prior predictions of future scenarios need a massive revision.
Any Transmission problems?
As the price of wind and solar have come down dramatically, the conventional wisdom which says that wind is only cost-effective in the wind belt in the middle of the country, solar is only cost-effective in the sunny Southwest — is not true anymore. While we still need to build significant transmission, most of that transmission is more regional as opposed to interregional, the report suggests.
There are plenty of other up-sides. Wind, solar, and battery storage can provide the bulk of clean power. The report finds that new fossil fuel generators are not needed. Existing gas plants used infrequently and combined with storage, hydropower, and nuclear power are sufficient to meet demand during periods of extraordinarily low renewable energy generation or exceptionally high electricity demand. Also, the cost declined much faster than all the experts in the field anticipated. A national clean-energy standard would do the lion’s share of the work, assisted by policy reforms and research and development investments.
Setting the target to 90% clean removes the need to run the system only on renewables at all times; it can burn a little gas when absolutely necessary. Contact Staten Solar to reduce yours as well as the nation’s dependence on expensive fossil fuel and dirty coal. No better time than now to contemplate on how we can make our living spaces a lot more self-sustaining.