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Electric Grid

 How Plausible is an All-Renewable Electric Grid in the US?

Is the key to tackling climate change really as simple as ‘electrifying everything’. According to Vox, and many others, it is. 

Electrifying everything in this sense means that all means of energy production should be replaced with an electrical alternative (if at all feasible). Sounds great, but we aren’t quite there yet and will still have to burn natural gas to generate the majority of our electricity need (about 35% according to 2018 numbers).

Vox goes a step beyond this in another article and says that it’s economically plausible to run the U.S. entirely on renewable energy by 2050, citing this projection, among others. The authors of that Energy & Environmental Science report believe that Wind, Water, and Solar (WWS) energy will prevail and be robust enough to generate zero-carbon energy. And although there are criticisms about just how reliable most of that renewable energy would be, those same experts actually agree that the grid will be more secure with renewable grid modeling.

But there’s so many complexities at play that span all political, logistical, and technological corners of the country. Additionally, over-generation and duck curves are a commonly-posed problem with renewable energy. 

Let’s explore some solutions for facilitating this all-renewable vision for the U.S. energy system as a whole.

Some Solutions: Larger Scales, Increased Storage Facilities, and Microgrids

 

Let’s ignore the incredibly dense and mind-boggling policy considerations and Congressional cooperation that would need to take place to enact this global green initiative for energy. Instead, let’s explore some smaller scale solutions.

This article by David Timmons, which was featured on TechXplore, offers some insights on the importance of how cost has an inverse relationship to how large the scale of the project is. As an example, this is what he says about scalability, “in the United States, large-scale solar farms can be more than 1,000 times larger than residential rooftop systems and about half the cost.”

Switching gears, microgrids can also inch the U.S. much closer to a renewable grid. Through smaller, more flexible grids, power outages are less a threat because there are always back-up systems in place. In addition, more energy is saved because about 5% of all electricity is lost through longer transmission lengths, according to the EIA. So microgrids can be a game-changer if they are utilized strategically with key points of high renewable energy generation. 

Lastly, better battery capacity means less wasted energy. And because there is an over-generation problem with renewable energy, storing excess electricity is key for efficiency and can mean a more robust electrical grid. Using the ‘duck curve’ as an example, solar energy hits points of peak production and then obviously falls off during the night time. Better batteries can minimize the wasted electricity. 

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