The future role of coal has always been a central question in the larger discussion about climate change and renewable power. Some envision a future without coal entirely, but that scenario has not always seemed practical. A recent study shows that it may not be so far-fetched after all.

In the January issue of the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado Boulder published the findings of their study on the pricing of renewable power.

The cost of renewables and its variability have always put it at a competitive disadvantage to coal. The study’s authors find that this disadvantage could be eliminated, and much more easily and quickly than previously thought.

They found that by incorporating DC voltage lines into the existing transmission infrastructure, utilities could create a nationally integrated system that better captures and delivers renewable power from those regions where the generation potential is greatest to those areas that need it the most.

By conducting mathematical analyses of continent-wide patterns of weather and energy demand, the researchers found that existing technology is capable of slashing the nation’s carbon emissions by almost 80 percent by the year 2030. They assert that utilities could add DC infrastructure to existing AC lines in a little over a decade and not at considerable costs.

The transformation, they argue, is not predicated on wholesale deployment of new storage technology. It also would not adversely affect rates. According to the study, the cost to ratepayers would be between $0.086 and $0.10 per kilowatt-hour, a rate comparable to the actual average nationwide cost of $0.10 per kilowatt-hour in 2015.