Wind and solar resources could provide 80% of the electricity demand in the United States, provided improvements are made in transmission and storage, said scientists on Tuesday.
Renewable energies were considered a few years ago as being able to answer only 20 to 30% of the American electrical needs, according to a study published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.
The United States currently generates about two-thirds of its electricity with fossil fuels – natural gas, coal, oil – which contributes to the rise in global temperature by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And a fifth comes from nuclear power plants. Renewable energies represent only 15% of the energy mix: wind contributes 7%, solar energy 1% and other sources such as hydraulics complete the balance, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
To determine the potential contribution of sustainable energy in the future, researchers analyzed the American weather, hour by hour, between 1980 and 2015. “We have observed the variation of solar and wind energy both in time and space and compared it to the US demand for electricity,” said Steven Davis, a professor of Earth System Science at the University of California-Irvine.
“We have determined that we could reliably obtain approximately 80% of our electricity from these (renewable) sources by building a continental transmission grid or facilities that can maintain the equivalent of twelve hours of national electricity consumption,” he continued.
The new system would require investment “very important, but not inconceivable,” noted researchers from the California Institute of Technology and the Carnegie Institution for Science.
They called for the United States, the second largest polluter behind China, to consider developing energy sources with low greenhouse gas emissions until these facilities are built. “The options could include nuclear and hydroelectric power generation, as well as demand management,” said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science.