This is the possible mix that the US could have by 2020 (still far short of countries like Germany and Spain with 16% and 35% respectively) according to the latest report, projecting that The United States could get 10 percent of its power from renewable energy (excluding hydropower) using today’s technology by 2020, up from its share of about 2.5 percent today.
The National Research Council, which published the report, says that today’s technology could get the country to 10 percent non-hydro renewable energy by 2020 and 20 percent by 2035.
To move beyond that, “major scientific advances, and changes to the way we generate, transmit, and use electricity, will be needed,” the report said. That includes large-scale grid storage, a “smart grid” that allows two-way communication and fine-tuned management and other improvements.
However, even to get to the scenario allowed by today’s technology will require the right mix of pubic policy to encourage renewable energy and the politically tricky matter of building massive new transmission lines to carry it to where it’s needed, the report said.
The question of transmission is part of the debate over energy legislation now before Congress. Proposals to give the federal government increased power over siting those transmission lines are part of a broader set of policies for boosting renewable energy and putting a price on carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade program.
The report notes that “issues of land use and other local impacts (e.g., noise from wind turbines or potential effects on local weather) will become increasingly important as deployment of renewable technologies grow.”
States with renewable portfolio standards – mandates that state utilities supply a certain portion of their electricity from renewable sources by a set date – are coming to terms with those challenges.
California, which is proposing that its utilities supply 33 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2020, is one of them. According to a recent report from the California Public Utilities Commission, reaching that new goal will require seven new transmission lines at a cost of about $12 billion.
Greenpeace and two solar industry groups last month made the bold claim that making electricity from the sun’s heat could provide a quarter the country’s electricity need by 2050.
But then, that would require spending on such solar-thermal plants to increase by $51 billion every year between now and 2030, and by even more after that, to get there. That would be quite a jump from the $2.8 billion or the report said was being put into solar-thermal this year – a welcome prospect, no doubt, to report co-issuers European Solar Thermal Electricity Association and SolarPaces, but perhaps a long shot.
Still, there is a benefit to thinking big. According to a February report from U.S. grid operators, getting 20 percent of the country’s power from wind – up from less than 1 percent in 2007 – would cost $1.1 trillion for the wind farms and an additional $80 billion in transmission lines.
But getting 5 percent of the country’s power from wind by 2024 wouldn’t be that much cheaper – about $700 billion for the wind farms and $50 billion in transmission, the report said.
Shame $1 trillion and counting was spent on invading Iraq then.
Image CC from flickr by Caveman 92223 — On the Road Again!