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Can the US Depend Entirely on Renewable Power? Yes, and AI Technology will help.

image credit: Terence Burke Unsplash

Over 77 percent of Americans believe that it is important for the United States to develop and implement alternative sources of energy like wind and solar power in order to move away from coal, oil, and fossil fuels. This was according to a survey by Pugh Research Center in November 2019.  Most want all this with a grid which is reliable, secure and safe.

Though moving directionally towards greater renewables in the US is important, but, is it technically, economically or culturally possible for the US to meet its massive energy needs, just, with renewable energy? 

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A study helmed by Mark Jacobson at Stanford stated way back in 2015 with models that it is, in fact, possible for the US to have a 100 percent renewable future, at a lower cost, greater reliability and with creation of new jobs. The authors' thinking was that 80-85 percent of American energy demand, can be fulfilled by solar, wind, and water by the end of 2030. The 15-20 percent leftover energy requirements, would need approximately 20 more years, as long as everything falls into place. 

Noting that, this would be a best-case scenario, with hopes for electrification of everything right from vehicles to rails, busses, and aircraft it would also require consistent, coordinated and constant commitment from all levels of government.

 Though the study had its detractors, most continue to agree that directionally, renewables of which Solar is the fastest growing component, anchored by other forms of mainly renewable options is the future. 

Even NextEra Energy in their 2019 guidance predicts that 50% of the US’s energy would come from Renewables – and as one of the largest company’s in the renewable space, they have greater visibility. 

Solar power has seen the largest growth of any other US energy source in the last decade. While in 2008, solar power generated over 2 billion KW-hours of electricity, in 2018, it was responsible for generating more than 93 billion KW-hours of electricity, an almost 46X increase. Its pace of growth even within the decade has only gotten faster and will continue to do so for the next decade as well. Credited to both small scale (Rooftop & Commercial Solar) and large scale (electricity power plants, IPP) implementations, roughly 75% is due to large scale plants, necessary as they give the best economies of scale.  Commercial and residential have no need for additional land, a main advantage.

Looking back at the Stanford study, from the vantage point of 2020, the new information is the use of AI technology. With rapid growth of AI based Forecasting systems, this type of more accurate forecasting both for the utilities and for the providers of Solar and Wind electricity to the Grid, means that utilities can better plan for the mix of renewables in their energy assortment. Additionally, AI based forecasting for Solar providers themselves means that the IPP’s too gain advantages of using more accurate forecasting for better internal cash flow management, budgeting, resource movement and asset management as well. This will make Solar power even more useful for both the IPP’s and allow utilities to keep their grid secure, stable and reliable. 

Coming back to the question, “can the US depend entirely on renewables?” We can quibble over the exact numbers, but perfect is the enemy of the good. The issue is not that we need to 100% get there, but that we’re pursuing good which would create a stable more localized grid, create jobs, we should aspire in its direction. In any case, the job for academics is to show what is possible. It’s up to us to make it probable.

 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 24, 2020

Coming back to the question, “can the US depend entirely on renewables?” We can quibble over the exact numbers, but perfect is the enemy of the good.

You're right-- when we talk about 100% renewables ASAP, we open up the door for rightful criticism that we actually don't know what a wide-scale 100% renewable grid today would look like and thus initiatives may suffer from credibility issues. But if, instead, the charge is "we need to add XX gigawatts of renewable" or "we need to replace XX gigawatts of coal and gas ASAP" then we can get to work in quicker order!

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Nov 25, 2020

I can hardly wait to hear the naysayers weigh in on this. But, renewables has the field to itself for another 8-9 years minimum to prove the validity of this claim.  While the political winds are not ideal, they are unlikely to get any better. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 25, 2020

While the political winds are not ideal, they are unlikely to get any better. 

The outlook is at least better than it was at the beginning of the month!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 25, 2020

Just another 8-9 years, Mark? 100% renewable energy has been another 8-9 years away for the last 60 years.

No more time to waste.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 25, 2020

"A study helmed by Mark Jacobson at Stanford stated way back in 2015 with models that it is, in fact, possible for the US to have a 100 percent renewable future..."

What Mark Jacobson, tool of Stanford's Natural Gas Initiative, stated way back in 2015 was, in fact, wrong. It's 100-percent pure propaganda, engineered to promote natural gas.

Here it rises from the ashes again, years after being thoroughly and mercilessly debunked by a team of international experts:

"We find that their [Jacobson et al's] analysis involves errors, inappropriate methods, and implausible assumptions. Their study does not provide credible evidence for rejecting the conclusions of previous analyses that point to the benefits of considering a broad portfolio of energy system options. A policy prescription that overpromises on the benefits of relying on a narrower portfolio of technologies options could be counterproductive, seriously impeding the move to a cost effective decarbonized energy system."

Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Nov 30, 2020

Might want to familiarize yourself with the laws of physics and take a hard look at the area needed to pull off your magical mirage of 100% renewable energy.

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