National Report: All Renewable Transition Possible by 2050

Inside Climate News, summarizing the final report of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Electrification Futures Study, concludes that by 2050:

a transition to mostly renewable energy is possible, but will require households and businesses to be flexible in how they consume electricity.

Ella Zhou, a senior modeling engineer at NREL and a co-author of the report, told Inside Climate News:

The transformation to a highly electrified economy is an opportunity for consumers and businesses because of the potential for cost-savings and for developing and selling new generations of products.

“This offers useful information literally for everyone, because electricity touches all of our lives.”

Here are some highlights from the four-year  project:

  • The United States already has the technologies it needs for the power system to reliably operate with high levels of electrification and high levels of wind and solar…
  • One of the keys to making the power system work will be flexibility in electricity demand, encouraging owners of electric vehicles to recharge them at times of low demand and offering incentives for households and businesses to reduce their power use whenever demand gets uncomfortably close to outstripping supply. Much of this flexibility can be run by software in ways that are barely noticeable to consumers.
  • A power system that is more flexible costs a lot less to operate than one that isn’t because it can avoid short-term spikes in demand that lead to high prices, and it can avoid big ramp-ups of electricity generation that put severe strain on equipment.

The Inside Climate News author Dan Gearino points out:

The growth in electricity consumption would require a massive build-out of solar arrays, along with onshore and offshore wind farms, with those resources providing about two-thirds of the country’s electricity generation. The remaining one-third would come from hydroelectric, natural gas, nuclear and other resources.

He adds:

Considering that many wind and solar projects face local backlash from residents, building on such a large scale would require some way of getting local people on board or overcoming their opposition.

So ultimately the success of reaching a nearly 100 percent renewable goal by 2050 will depend not just on politics, but also on everyday people like the residents of Sandwich, N.H.

For the wonks among us, the NREL will host a deep dive, final report webinar from noon to  1 p.m.  EDT on Thursday, June 17, 2021 with report authors Ella Zhou and Trieu Mai.


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