Renewable energy could power almost all of a power grid by 2030 at about what electricity costs today, according to academics in Delaware. Think it is too good to be true? Read on.
"The key is to get the right combination of electricity sources and storageÂ—which we did by an exhaustive searchÂ—and to calculate costs correctly," said Willett Kempton, a professor at the University of Delaware and coauthor of a report scheduled in the March 1, 2013, issue of Journal of Power Sciences.
Most research to date has been unable to generate alternative energy at competitive market prices. It has had problems with reliability of generation; what happens if the sun is blocked for days? There have also been storage issues. However, the U.S. government placed stricter environmental regulations on coal and oil burning plants and energy created from waste, making its production and use more expensive. That is expected to rise in the future.
To date, researchers have sought measured cost effectiveness by matching generation to energy usage. The model the Delaware team used in its four-year study focused on data for the PJM Interconnection, which powers about 20 percent of the United States.
Generating more electricity than needed during average hours would be cheaper than storing excess power for later high demand, researchers found. This would meet the need on high demand, but low-wind hours.
Storage is expensive because the batteries or hydrogen tanks holding the excess energy need to larger for each additional hour stored.
"For example, using hydrogen for storage, we can run an electric system that today would meet a need of 72 gigawatt (GW), 99.9 percent of the time, using 17 GW of solar, 68 GW of offshore wind, and 115 GW of inland wind," said coauthor Cory Budischak, instructor in the Energy Management Department at Delaware Technical Community College.
The study recommends keeping fossil fuels on hands as a backup to the alternative combination.
Although this is only one study, it raises some important questions about renewable energy in the United States. Given the federal budget, should Washington invest in creating more renewable work? Given the environment, can Washington afford not to?