Nav: Home

Wind and solar could meet most but not all US electricity needs

February 27, 2018

Washington, DC--Wind and solar power could generate most but not all electricity in the United States, according to an analysis of 36 years of weather data by Carnegie's Ken Caldeira, and three Carnegie-affiliated energy experts: Matthew Shaner, Steven Davis (of University of California Irvine), and Nathan Lewis (of Caltech).

Right now, about 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions come from electricity production, which must be reduced to combat climate change.

The team found that as the amount of electricity produced by solar and wind increases, avoiding major blackouts becomes increasingly challenging. Policymakers and planners need to consider that wind and solar resources will have natural variability, the team said.

"Our team took a simplified approach aimed at understanding fundamental geophysical constraints on wind and solar power," explained lead author Shaner. "We looked at solar and wind power availability on an hourly basis across the U.S. and determined how much of current electricity demand could be met by varying amounts of solar panels, wind turbines, and energy storage, in addition to changes in the electricity grid."

According to the team's findings, solar power resources reached peak generating ability in June and July, and wind resources peak in March and April and slump during July and August. So, the resources have a complementary effect that would allow each to help alleviate the other's deficiencies. But this wouldn't be enough to overcome non-seasonal variation in solar and wind resources.

Their assessments showed that reliable electricity generation with 80 percent solar and wind would require a continent-scale transmission grid with at least 12 hours of storage to overcome ordinary day-to-day variation.

But to bump up to 100 percent of electricity coming from solar and wind power would require significantly greater and costlier energy infrastructure changes to overcome seasonal cycles and extreme weather events. It would be necessary to have either the capacity to store the generated electricity for several weeks--something not economically feasible today--or the ability to generate a surplus of electricity, much of which would be infrequently used. Likewise, a continent-scale transmission grid would also be required.

"Our work indicates that wind and solar would need to be supplemented by some kind of dispatchable power like natural gas or huge amounts of storage," Caldeira added. "The natural gas emits greenhouse gases and the storage is super expensive, so we need a search for better ways of supplying electricity when the sun is not shining, and the wind is not blowing."
-end-
The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

Carnegie Institution for Science

Related Natural Gas Articles:

Gold-plated crystals set new standard for natural gas detectors
Materials scientists and engineers have developed a sensor that is fast, sensitive and efficient enough to detect specific wavelengths of electromagnetic energy while on the move.
Rice U. refines filters for greener natural gas
Rice University scientists map out the best materials for either carbon dioxide capture or balancing carbon capture with methane selectivity.
Unconventional: The Development of Natural Gas from the Marcellus Shale
Shale gas has changed thinking about fossil energy supplies worldwide, but the development of these resources has been controversial.
Campus natural gas power plants pose no radon risks
When Penn State decided to convert its two power plants from their historic use of coal as a source of energy to natural gas, there was concern about radon emissions.
Russian researchers developed high-pressure natural gas operating turbine-generator
Scientists of Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU) developed turbo expander electric generator operating on high-pressure natural gas.
More Natural Gas News and Natural Gas Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...