‘Energy Interstate’ Makes Low-Carbon Goals Feasible

A study from NOAA and University of Colorado at Boulder has found US could reduce GHG emissions from power production by up to 78% below 1990 levels within 15 years, even while meeting projected increased demand.

There are key opportunities for weather-driven renewable sources to be used at large scale across the US to generate energy, according to the study. It used mathematical models to determine the feasibility of a transition to low-carbon sources of energy. Those models take into consideration information such as hour-by-hour sunlight and wind levels across the country using historical meteorological data collected by NOAA. The study found that renewables such as wind power and solar energy will be able to supply a majority of the US’s power demands at a costs that is similar to current power pricing.

“Our research shows a transition to a reliable, low-carbon, electrical generation and transmission system can be accomplished with commercially available technology and within 15 years,” said Alexander MacDonald, co-lead author and recently retired director of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder.

While wind and solar power systems continue to decrease in price, these sources of power generation are intermittent and cannot — in the current deployments — offer power generation nonstop. The study indicates that by scaling up wind and solar energy generating systems around the country to match the scale of weather patterns, weather-driven power generation could be stabilized to yield low-cost, low-carbon energy generation. But doing so will require creating a nation-wide energy transport system. The feasibility of nation-wide renewable energy systems require transmission infrastructure upgrades in order to enable energy in the form of electricity to be transported from one area of the country.

Those upgrades would include the creation of a high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) transmission grid, which MacDonald refers to as an “energy interstate.” The transmission grid would help distribute weather-generated energy across parts of the country where the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, for example. HVDC transmission lines are designed specially to transport energy in the form of electricity across long distances with minimal loss of energy; and this technology is in use already throughout much of the world. Investing in HVDC infrastructure upgrades are crucial to keeping the cost of renewable energy grids systems down.

“With an ‘interstate for electrons’, renewable energy could be delivered anywhere in the country while emissions plummet,” MacDonald said.  “An HVDC grid would create a national electricity market in which all types of generation, including low-carbon sources, compete on a cost basis. The surprise was how dominant wind and solar could be.”

By scaling wind and solar energy systems around the US and transporting energy along HVDC transmission lines, the US could reduce its GHG emissions by 78%-80% of the 1990 levels by 2030 while keeping the cost of energy comparable to today’s prices.

Watch this video:

See University of Colorado at Boulder for more information.


Feature image: “Single blade” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by  Portland General 


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