Fourth-fifths of the United States’ electricity demand could be met with wind and solar power, according to four researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science, University of California, Irvine (UCI), and the California Institute of Technology. UCI associate professor Steven Davis said in a statement, “The fact that we could get 80 percent of our power from wind and solar alone is really encouraging. Five years ago, many people doubted that these resources could account for more than 20 or 30 percent.”
The scientists scrutinized global hourly weather data between 1980 and 2015 data to grasp the geophysical barriers to utilizing solely those renewable sources, and think if the United States were to draw only on solar and wind, they’d need to store several weeks’ worth of power to make up for those times when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing. According to Davis, the US could reliably obtain around 80 percent of electricity from wind and solar power “by building either a continental-scale transmission network or facilities that could store 12 hours’ worth of the nation’s electricity demand.”
It wouldn’t be cheap to invest in expanding transmission or storage capabilities, but the researchers said it’s not inconceivable. They estimate new transmission lines required could cost hundreds of billions of dollars, while storing that amount of electricity with the cheapest batteries today could cost over one trillion dollars, but prices are dropping.
Carnegie Institution for Science’s Ken Caldeira said, “Our work indicates that low-carbon-emission power sources will be needed to complement what we can harvest from the wind and sun until storage and transmission capabilities are up to the job. Options could include nuclear and hydroelectric power generation, as well as managing demand.”