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article imageSolar and wind could meet 80 percent of US electricity demand

By Karen Graham     Mar 1, 2018 in Technology
The U.S. could easily meet about 80 percent of its electricity demand with solar and wind power generation, while 100 percent could be met by scaling up energy storage capacity and capabilities.
Scientists at the University of California, Irvine; the California Institute of Technology; and the Carnegie Institution for Science have released an analysis of the U.S. electricity grid managing expanding volumes of intermittent generation in the research journal Energy & Environmental Science.
The news is exciting and very encouraging. The thought of relying on wind and solar power for generating electricity in any great amount was met with skepticism less than a decade ago, and now we do have the capability to accomplish this dream.
"The sun sets, and the wind doesn't always blow," noted Steven Davis, UCI associate professor of Earth system science and co-author of a renewable energy study. "If we want a reliable power system based on these resources, how do we deal with their daily and seasonal changes?"
Wind Catcher Energy Connection is a $4.5 billion infrastructure investment that will bring Oklahoma ...
Wind Catcher Energy Connection is a $4.5 billion infrastructure investment that will bring Oklahoma wind power to more than 1.1 million energy customers in the South Central U.S.
Wind Catcher Energy Connection
The fundamental barriers to relying on wind and solar
The research team first analyzed 36 years of global, hourly weather data between 1980 and 2015. "Our team took a simplified approach aimed at understanding fundamental geophysical constraints on wind and solar power,” explained lead author Matthew Shaner.
By looking at the availability of solar and wind power on an hourly basis across the U.S., the research team could determine how much of the current electrical demand could be met by varying amounts of solar panels, wind turbines, and energy storage, in addition to changes in the electricity grid, Shaner said,
Davis added, We looked at the variability of solar and wind energy over both time and space and compared that to US electricity demand. “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.”
It may seem that creating a nation-wide transmission network is insurmountable - However, it is possible, say the researchers. And the investments needed to accomplish such a task are within the realm of possibility. The project would require a continental transmission network and scaling up existing battery technologies to provide parallel 12-hour storage.
Enel Green Energy s  Stillwater  solar power plant in the United States.
Enel Green Energy's "Stillwater" solar power plant in the United States.
Enel Green Energy
And while this could be done using the current battery technology available, to supply the entire current electricity demand, the cheaper option would be scaling up our battery technologies, meaning it would cost billions of dollars as opposed to the trillions needed to stay with current batteries.
The study also found that solar and wind power complement each other in an interesting way. Peak generating capacity for solar hits in June and July, the middle of summer, while wind generation is at its peak in March and April, slumping in July and August. So the two renewable sources can actually alleviate each other’s slow patches.
"Our work indicates that low-carbon-emission power sources will be needed to complement what we can harvest from the wind and sun until storage and transmission capabilities are up to the job," said co-author Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science. "Options could include nuclear and hydroelectric power generation, as well as managing demand."
More about electricity demand, solar and wind, Energy storage, variability, Science
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