Renewable energy is reliable, new study claims

Renewable energy is reliable, ...
A new study claims that a municipal grid could be powered almost entirely via renewable sources (Image: Shutterstock)
A new study claims that a municipal grid could be powered almost entirely via renewable sources (Image: Shutterstock)
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A new study claims that a municipal grid could be powered almost entirely via renewable sources (Image: Shutterstock)
A new study claims that a municipal grid could be powered almost entirely via renewable sources (Image: Shutterstock)

Although critics of renewable energy may claim that it isn't reliable enough to power a grid, a new study gives proponents of clean power – such as wind and solar – fresh ammunition to respond. A thorough analysis carried out by the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College concluded that renewable energy could reliably power a large electrical grid 99.9 per cent of the time by 2030, at a cost that matches today’s electricity prices.

A diversified energy mix, an expanded geographic area of renewable generation, and efficient storage media such as batteries and fuel cells are key to running a successful renewable-powered grid. With that in mind, the study utilized a computer model that looked at 28 billion combinations of renewable energy sources and storage devices. It was found that a 72 GW electric system, for instance, could be run 99.9 percent of the time with a hydrogen storage system using 17 GW of solar, 68 GW of offshore wind, and 115 GW of inland wind.

Fossil fuel would be used in the event that renewable energy sources and stored power aren't able to meet demand. When supply outstripped demand, the model prioritized storing the excess power before using the remaining energy to replace natural gas for heating homes and businesses. If there was any excess left after that, only then it would go to waste.

The research spanned four years based on weather and energy demand data drawn from PJM Interconnection, a regional grid linking 13 states including New Jersey and Illinois. PJM makes up one-fifth of America’s total electrical grid.

In order to address the projected costs of clean energy, the study focused on minimizing costs instead of matching generation to electricity use, like similar studies have done. The authors used both current costs and 2030 costs, the latter of which they estimated would be about 50 percent lower than the former – they didn't assume new technologies would be developed, but did assume lower costs due to increasing production and technical experience. Maintenance costs were projected to remain the same.

The study also assumed costs without government subsidies, and compared them to the cost of generation of the most commonly-used types of fossil fuel, factoring in external costs such as the effects of power plant air pollution on human health.

The study makes a clear case for renewable energy (on which Germany is already sold) as a way to meet 80 to 90 per cent emission targets, which could be achieved if we aim for 90 percent or more renewable energy in 2030. Besides making environmental sense, it also makes economic sense, the authors say.

The research appeared online last month in the Journal of Power Sources.

Source: University of Delaware

Uhm, since 3 mile island makes 852 Megawatts, I'm not sure where the hell we are going to come up with the 17 GIGA watts of solar, 68 GIGA watts of offshore wind power, and the meager 115 gigawatts left over from off shore wind power...So i guess we simply need 219 times the power output of 3 mile island..Should be simple.
Jeff J Carlson
Lets do some simple math to check this "study" out ...
in 2009, average Gigawatts used per hour in the US 24/7/365 : 178
total capacity envisioned in the "study" : 199
but wait, by 2030 we will need at least 220 gigawatts per hour (assuming a 1% annual increase in electrical usage) ...
so assuming 100% electrical generation from the 3 sources 24/7/365 we would still come up short, 220 vs 199
of course the sun doesn't shine 24/7 and the wind doesn't blow 24/7
taking a generous assumption of 50% for wind and 35% for solar we come up with a capacity of 97 gigawatts ... again short of the 220 needed ...
the 16 gw of solar would cover an area at least 120,000 arces of land ... at a minimum ...
the wind component would need 122,000 of GE's 1.5 mw turbines ... (there are 16,000 currently installed worldwide) ... and would cover about 152,000 acres (much of that on land) ...
so in summary if we cover about 210,000 acres of land with solar panels and wind turbines and 56,000 acres of water offshore with turbines we can expect to generate about 43% of our electrical power in 2030 ... not 100% ...
nice try ...

Jeffrey - I like the idea of trying, and since a heck of a lot of the base assumptions for the study are not mentioned in the article, of course one can easily come up with numbers that will destroy the case.
It's just like in 1900, when people with technical knowledge knew all the right reasons why motor cars could not and would not -ever- replace horse carriages. They did not tell lies, but yet they were completely, utterly wrong.
To see which way things are going one just has to watch any new technology.
Photovoltaic solar cells: "Experts" were at first (decades ago) telling people that efficiency could never go past 10%...20% and so on. Where are we now? At 43.5% for lab samples. I'm sure there are still, once again, people out there willing to tell me that I will never be able to buy a cell like that. You keep talking, while I keep watching price tags.
Computers: my dad was told he would never be able to afford a computer (just look how many transistors have to be assembled to make just one computer work!)
Wind: The first megawatt-class wind energy converter (the GROWIAN project) fell apart within weeks and, boy, were people bashed for that one. Waste of tax money! Impossible-to-overcome technological challenges, right? But it's 2012, power per unit is up to 7.5 Megawatts (not just 1.5 as you are using in your example) and still counting. 10MW units are being built, 15 MW talked about. Today, GROWIAN is known to have laid the foundation for modern wind energy with all that was learned from breaking that one windmill, back in 1983. And there are different technologies on the horizon now, kites, flying units with far more power and less materials going into than known today. Get ready to dismiss them all, you'll be busy.
Wave power: Have you looked at the power density of ocean waves? I'm sure your reply to that will be "but there is no one on earth able to harness that, at all" and I will tell you: "yet!" How many centuries did people tell other people that man and/or machines can't fly?
Batteries: Don't even get me started on that. I so well remember expert statements from as little as 15 years ago, when polymer-based rechargeable batteries only existed as badly functioning lab samples, and look where we are at now.
Flat computer screens. .. I remember so many experts telling me why "never there will be color screens", or why it will "never be possible to make screens larger than ...x... diameter". Or, flat screen TV's! Geez, what a pile of bull.
Houses are already being built that only use a tiny fraction of the energy of todays houses for heating. Ever heard of the "Passive House"? That type of house is so well insulated, cozy temperatures are maintained from the heat of the bodys of the inhabitants. The first set of row houses of that type was built in the 90's, in Darmstadt, Germany.
The Tesla S electric car was not possible a decade ago. Yes, yes, you don't have to tell me the price tag. Just wait, dude. The Toyota Corolla did not happen overnight, suddenly, in 1901. Things take time.
Technology is advancing. Costs for renewables are dropping. Fossils are running out, and who cares when exactly that happens? It will happen.
Brian Maxwell
I'm sure there will be technological advances in clean energy by the time 2030 comes around. So you really shouldn't base your argument on current technologies.
Jeffrey, while it is correct that there would be considerable land usage involved in the generated energy I think you've skipped a couple of features of the study: 1. "...could be achieved if we aim for 90 percent or more..." The study wasn't about supplying 100% of power. 2. Does the projected power output of the renewable sources used in the study mean total maximum theoretical or does it mean realistic practical? Eg: 199GW from renewable sources would have to be factored down if that was a max theoretical figure. But if the 199 has already taken into account average sunny days and windy days then you don't. There is as you point out, the issue of the land area consumed by power generation. But only if you assume a centralised energy distribution system. If you stick a few KW of solar panels on everyone's roof you can spread the load and land use out over already used land. In Australia, particularly Western Australia, 1.5kw of grid connected solar panels cost as little as $1,500 - $1,800 installed and 3kw just under double that. Around Perth (where pretty much everyone in WA lives) we get 5.5 sun hours / day on average so with the 3kw package each house would make 16.5kw/hr /day. You wouldn't need to use up perfectly good land for solar, just put more panels on roofs. Wind of course is different due to visibility and noise issues. "Aim for the stars and you might reach the moon"
Travis Tarr
I just hate seeing all those windmills and solar panels on the horizon... Not to mention electricly connecting all those "renewables". Germans love windmills only when they are not in their back yard.
I suspect that at the very best a detailed inspection of the study will find that the cost estimates for the renewable energy sources are uniformly highly optimistic while the cost estimates for all the conventional energy sources are uniformly highly pessimistic.
Nigel Giddings
while it is good to research the possibilities making such wild claims will only continue to polarise opinion.
To suggest technologies can be developed, be taken out of the lab and form part of the day to day operation of our critical infrastructure that we rely on in 13 years is crazy.
I personally have problems with the way wind is being promoted in the UK and the green credentials it has been given. If you look at the wind production figures in the UK in last week you will see for the last 3 days production has been at less than 25% of the typical peak, to provide systems capable of storing this much power to make up shortfalls over a period of up to a week using technology by committing to technology that is not proven would e reckless. It should be noted that Wind turbines in the UK typically provide 20% of their design maximum on average.
While solar is more predictable the stochastic nature of wind production cause huge problems for electrical grids. Denmark produce in excess of 20% of their electrical power by wind but you should read this report to see the issues it causes them and what it would mean if it was applied to the UK or USA. http://www.cepos.dk/fileadmin/user_upload/Arkiv/PDF/Wind_energy_-_the_case_of_Denmark.pdf
By all means look to the future but lets not make snap decisions on such an important issue using sound bites.
Hi all,
Since we are talking numbers, I thought I would add by US$0.02 worth.
9,827,000 km² United States of America, Area ( found it on Google )
Total area needed as estimated by Mr Carlson : 210,000 + 56,000 acres = 266,000acres = 1,076.4638 km2 (round up 1,077km2) = 415.62 sq miles
As a percentage : 1077 / 9,827,000 x 100 = 0.011% (approx.) of total land area of the US of A Or 32.82 km by 32.82 km area = 20.39 miles by 20.39 miles
I've never been to the States but I think you can spare the space for this
Oh! and if thats a problem there's still the Aussie example... Aussie Aussie Aussie!! Ooi Ooi Ooi!! Roof tops are great! And Perth is beautiful, Peppermint Grove is lovely, great picnic spots..
Stefaan van Damme
well, I rather trust in a study, than in a bunch of nonsense opinions. And as usual I read a heap of a loosely based on numbers presumptions of a nuclear lobby. Please keep calm and carry on investing in renewable energy, and not in finite combustion materials & pollution.