Benefits of renewable energy vary from place to place

December 14, 2020

A new study from North Carolina State University finds that the environmental benefits of renewable power generation vary significantly, depending on the nature of the conventional power generation that the renewable energy is offsetting. The researchers hope the work will help target future renewable energy investments in places where they can do the most good.

"For years, researchers have taken different approaches to try to assess the environmental benefits of renewable energy," says Harrison Fell, co-author of the study and an associate professor of energy economics at NC State. "The Energy Information Administration started releasing detailed data on renewable power generation in 2018, and we realized that we finally had an opportunity to address this issue using real-world data.

"Our study is the first to quantify emissions reductions from solar and wind generation relying on renewable generation data across a broad array of regions, while also accounting for electricity trade between regions," Fell says.

For the study, researchers drew on data from regions spanning the contiguous 48 states from July 2018 through March 2020.

The big takeaway from the study is that the environmental value of renewable energy varies significantly. In other words, one megawatt hour (MWh) of renewable power varies depending on where that power was generated.

"For example, one MWh of solar power produced in Florida reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about twice as much as one MWh of solar power produced in California," says Jeremiah Johnson, corresponding author of the study and an associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NC State. "That's because California already has a cleaner grid when compared to other regions. So offsetting an hour of conventional power generation in California reduces CO2 emissions less than offsetting an hour of conventional power generation in Florida."

Why is that important?

"In the near term, these findings give us insight into where we should target investments in renewable power in order to maximize the environmental benefits," Johnson says.

But that wasn't the study's only finding.

The researchers also found that environmental benefits often crossed regional lines. For example, renewable power generated in State A might be used to offset power generation in State B, meaning that State B might receive the environmental benefits of renewable power projects in State A.

"Right now, renewable energy is largely driven by policies that vary from state to state," Fell says. "Our work here highlights one reason that this is not a very efficient approach to energy policy. A federal approach to renewable energy policy would be better able to account for the interstate nature of energy production, energy consumption and environmental benefits."

The researchers note that this study is effectively a snapshot of where the nation's power sector is right now, and that investments in renewable power are likely to continue.

"It will be interesting to see how the distribution of benefits changes as regions expand their sustainable energy infrastructure," Fell says.
-end-
The paper, "Regional Disparities in Emissions Reduction and Net Trade from Renewables," appears in the journal Nature Sustainability.

North Carolina State University

Related Renewable Energy Articles from Brightsurf:

Creating higher energy density lithium-ion batteries for renewable energy applications
Lithium-ion batteries that function as high-performance power sources for renewable applications, such as electric vehicles and consumer electronics, require electrodes that deliver high energy density without compromising cell lifetimes.

Renewable energy targets can undermine sustainable intentions
Renewable energy targets (RETs) may be too blunt a tool for ensuring a sustainable future, according to University of Queensland-led research.

Intelligent software for district renewable energy management
CSEM has developed Maestro, an intelligent software application that can manage and schedule the production and use of renewable energies for an entire neighborhood.

Renewable energy transition makes dollars and sense
New UNSW research has disproved the claim that the transition to renewable electricity systems will harm the global economy.

Renewable energy advance
In order to identify materials that can improve storage technologies for fuel cells and batteries, you need to be able to visualize the actual three-dimensional structure of a particular material up close and in context.

Illuminating the future of renewable energy
A new chemical compound created by researchers at West Virginia University is lighting the way for renewable energy.

Using fiber optics to advance safe and renewable energy
Fiber optic cables, it turns out, can be incredibly useful scientific sensors.

Renewable energy developments threaten biodiverse areas
More than 2000 renewable energy facilities are built in areas of environmental significance and threaten the natural habitats of plant and animal species across the globe.

Could water solve the renewable energy storage challenge?
Seasonally pumped hydropower storage could provide an affordable way to store renewable energy over the long-term, filling a much needed gap to support the transition to renewable energy, according to a new study from IIASA scientists.

Scientists take strides towards entirely renewable energy
Researchers have made a major discovery that will make it immeasurably easier for people (or super-computers) to search for an elusive 'green bullet' catalyst that could ultimately provide entirely renewable energy.

Read More: Renewable Energy News and Renewable Energy Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.