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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

NREL: Renewable Energy Can Supply 80% of US Electricity in 2050

Renewable electricity generation - from technologies that are commercially available today - is “more than adequate” to supply 80 percent of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050, according to the Renewable Electricity Futures Study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

NREL says that the study is the most comprehensive analysis of high-penetration renewable electricity of the continental United States. 

Reaching that lofty target involves huge challenges.  It will require a transformation of the electricity system involving every element of the grid, increased flexibility of the electric system, and expanded multi-state transmission infrastructure.  Costs will be high - "comparable to published cost estimates of other clean energy scenarios.” Improvement in the cost and performance of renewable technologies would have the greatest impact on reducing those costs. But there are no insurmountable long-term constraints to renewable electricity technology manufacturing capacity, materials supply, or labor availability, says the report.

The report says that the increased electric system flexibility that would be necessary to balance variable renewable energy supply with demand can be met by a portfolio of flexible conventional generation, grid storage, new transmission, more responsive loads, and changes in power system operations. Natural gas would be a key to the success of the transformation, and not a barrier.

The NREL report lays out a fundamental challenge to our nation.  Will we be wise enough – and bold enough - to meet it?  

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