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Experts See Big Future for Wind, More Distant Outlook for Solar

Reports from the National Academies and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concur that for the next decades, wind will continue to rule the renewables roost

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In a penetrating and provocative talk on the opening day of  an IEEE photovoltaics specialists conference, on June 8, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Samuel F. Baldwin drew attention to a recent report assessing what it will take in terms of generation to meet the country’s stated carbon reduction goals. Walter Short and Patrick Sullivan of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory modeled the U.S. electricity system to identify the main effects of cutting U.S. carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050, as the Obama administration has promised. The results are arresting. Average electricity prices increase only modestly, to 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour from 9 cents/kWh. Carbon prices, however, range from $80 to $100, five or six times present-day trading levels.

The NREL linear programming exercise found that with carbon emissions just one-fifth of what they are now in 2050, renewables account for almost half of U.S. electricity, but most of that is wind—solar concentrators contribute a significant share, but the role of photovoltaics is still minor. As for traditional fuels, the amount of electricity generated by coal contracts sharply, by about a third, and natural gas's generation decreases appreciably; nuclear holds about steady but does not increase.

The NREL report tends to reinforce what has been an Energywise refrain--that when we talk about renewables, it's really just one renewable, namely wind. Photovoltaic electricity is further from "grid parity" than its proponents would like us to think, and even when a kind of theoretical parity is achieved, a truly big break into the market may still be years away. Pretty much the same message is found in a major report issued this week by the National Academies, “Electricity from Renewable Resources: Status, Prospects, and Impediments.”

The Academies report endorsed the view of an earlier Department of Energy study that wind could generate 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2020, provided--it emphasizes--that transmission and distribution bottlenecks are adequately addressed. If renewables are to contribute another 20 percent of generation in the next two decades to 2040, concludes the report, wind will continue to be the main player. Solar concentrators will play a growing role, but not necessarily PV. 

 

 

 

 

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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