Renewables + Storage = Full Grid by 2030

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City lights of India are visible from space in this November 12, 2012, image by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP

satellite captured this nighttime view of India. (Credit: NASA) 

There goes conventional wisdom…again.

Turns out that an intelligently

designed, renewably-powered electric grid with storage technology can

juice up a real grid to 99.9 percent by the year 2030 at prices

comparable to today. That's according to a very thorough piece of new

research by researchers at University of Delaware and Delaware

Technical Community College.

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To come to this verdant conclusion,

the researchers developed a computer model that sorted through 28

billion combinations of renewable energy sources and storage systems.

Each combination was tested over four years of real historical hourly

weather data and electricity use in a real regional grid that

represents one-fifth of the United States' entire electric grid. So

these folks appear to have been doing everything possible to make

their study realistic as possible.

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“These results break the

conventional wisdom that renewable energy is too unreliable and

expensive,” said the study's co-author, Willett

Kempton, of the University of Delware's College

of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, in a press release. “The key

is to get the right combination of electricity sources and storage —

which we did by an exhaustive search — and to calculate costs

correctly.”

The right mix includes a combination of wind power, solar power

and storage in batteries and fuel cells, the researchers report, and

would nearly always generate more electricity than needed without

raising energy costs.

And surprisingly, more storage is not the key

to this renewable grid. Rather, the researchers found that generating

more electricity than needed during average hours would be cheaper

than storing excess power for later high demand. That's because

storage is expensive and batteries or hydrogen tanks have to bigger

for each additional hour of stored electricity.

“For example, using hydrogen for storage, we can run an electric

system that today would meet a need of 72 Gigawatts (GW), 99.9

percent of the time, using 17 GW of solar, 68 GW of offshore wind,

and 115 GW of inland wind,” said co-author Cory Budischak, of

Delaware Technical Community College.

In other words, you need a

higher renewable energy capacity than traditional power generators,

because wind and solar do not generate at their full capacity all of

the time.

There are loads of more details in the

study itself, which is in the Journal of Power Sources. But

the take away message is clear: A renewable grid can be done. It just takes some smarts. 

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