In the fight against climate change, wind and solar power have always held the greatest promise. Despite their ability to offer clean and plentiful electricity, the high cost of installation and the variable nature of their generation have always been a challenge.
A new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concludes that this challenge should not diminish the future role of wind and solar, and in fact, may enhance it.
In the January edition of the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers from NOAA published the findings of a study that shows wind and solar could drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions without raising the nation’s electricity costs.
The study “Future Cost-Competitive Electricity Systems and their Impact on U.S. CO2 Emissions,” measures the ability of wind and solar to meet the nation’s future electricity needs by examining weather patterns from a macro perspective. Using a unique method they call the National Electricity with Weather System (NEWS) model, the researchers measured weather data over broad geographical areas and extended periods of time.
The researchers note that, because the earth’s weather systems cover large geographic regions, the variability of wind and solar decreases over wider areas.
To capture the full potential of this unique characteristic of solar- and wind-power generation across the continent, the researchers advocate the use of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) to most effectively transmit electricity to remote areas where the resources are not as plentiful.
Using the NEWS model to compare various future scenarios, the researchers find that a combination of solar and wind, interconnected by HVDC transmission lines, could reduce CO2 emissions from electricity generation by as much as 80 percent while keeping costs of electricity at 2012 levels. This could be done without the use of energy-storage technology.