We may not have to wait for the future for renewable energy sources to power the United States. A new study by NOAA and the University of Colorado concludes that we could do it right now, with existing technologies. We could run clean by building more sources of wind, solar, and hydro power, and constructing a national power grid that distributes the energy where it was needed.
While many analysts argue that investing in these renewable energy sources could yield major possibilities in the long run, this new study examines what we could accomplish with what we have now. They found that existing technologies could slash the nation’s carbon dioxide output 80 percent by 2030, while still saving money on the cost of electricity.
It wouldn’t be easy. We would need 1,529GW of solar, wind, natural gas, nuclear, and hydro power. The new infrastructure for these technologies would cover .07 percent of all land in the United States. And we would need a new power grid that addresses the challenges of having energy in certain areas only when the wind blows or the sun shines.
The power grid could get by on about 525 gigawatts of wind, 460 GW of natural gas, 375 GW of solar, 115 GW of nuclear, and 90 GW of solar. This energy could power the nation’s electrical needs, even if demand increases 15 percent by 2030.
Currently, the U.S. electrical grid mirrors the country itself, particularly at the federal level, as a mishmash of regions and subdivisions with such designations as “interconnections” and “balancing authorities.” The study suggests that linking the nation’s power grids would provide a more affordable method of maintaining the nation’s energy supply than through energy storage — a still young, though highly touted, capability. Batteries simply remain a sticking point in our high-tech timeline, so the analysts recommend taking a different route.
The advantages of a highly electrical system, though, are evident. The study predicts that the national power grid, along with the additional renewable sources, could keep the cost of electricity well below the International Energy Agency’s current projections, saving the nation just under $50 billion annually.
Of course, the scale of transformation required to meet the study’s ambitious goals may exceed the willingness of the people who would need to authorize such a plan. Lawmakers, policy officials, corporate executives, and everyone invested in the fossil fuel industry would likely oppose such an energy revolution. The study simply shows that we could make the jump to renewable today — if we wanted to.