Tue. May 30th, 2023
US DOE is exploring a future grid that will be 35 percent wind

Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Energy released a report exploring what would happen if the recent expansion of wind energy were accelerated slightly and extended into the future. The report’s future envisions a country getting 10 percent of its electricity from wind by the end of the decade, 20 percent by 2030 and 35 percent by 2050. The study suggests the country will save money on electricity by 2050. and it will also bring significant additional benefits.

The report made headlines primarily because it indicates that US wind capacity tripled in the short period between 2009 and 2013 to 61 GW at the end of that period. To meet the study’s objectives, an additional 160 GW will be needed by 2030 and a total of 400 GW by 2050. That equates to about 10 GW of installations per year – a figure roughly equivalent to current domestic production capacity.

Extrapolating current installation rates, the US should reach 25 percent capacity by 2050, even if the price of the hardware remains constant. If wind costs continue to fall like this, the penetration rate will be 34 percent, about the target. But if fossil fuel costs rise a bit, wind could provide more than 40 percent of the country’s electricity by 2050.

The main shift from the current market would be the growth of offshore wind, which would provide just under 10 percent of power. Offshore wind, while common in Europe, is just getting started in the US. The costs are a lot higher, and as of now they are only partially offset by the higher generation rates of turbines in the ocean. That’s in contrast to onshore wind, which is competitive with coal in many parts of the US.

Nevertheless, the cost of switching to wind is quite low. The report estimates that electricity rates will increase by a total of 1 percent by 2030 and that the country will save as much as 2 percent by mid-century. The report’s authors also found that “variability in wind generation has a minimal and manageable impact on grid reliability and related costs.” We should be expanding the transmission lines, but not at a pace different from what we are doing now.

However, the real eye-opening numbers come in the collateral benefits the report considers. The CO2 emissions avoided total 12.3 gigatons. At the current estimated social cost of carbon, that’s worth $400 billion – a figure that could rise significantly if the social cost of carbon rises. Other pollutants such as particulate matter and sulfur dioxide are also going down, with benefits estimated at more than $100 billion. Combined, these improvements would have a leveled global benefit of $0.041 for every kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by wind.

If those benefits sound a little vague to you, there are some more concrete ones. By reducing the need to use natural gas for electricity generation, the wind would also free it up for consumer use for cooking and heating. That would save an estimated $280 billion, another $0.023/kW-hr. The switch to wind would also free up 23 percent of the water currently used for electricity production.

Combined, the financial benefits here add up to more than $0.06 — more than three-quarters of the DOE’s estimated levelized cost of wind energy (compared to $0.08 for new construction in 2019).

While the cost of wind power is likely to continue to fall as technologies improve, following this scenario will still require stable federal regulation, as well as coordination among local, state, and state officials to license suitable sites and ensure transmission infrastructure for them. Still, the long list of benefits identified in the DOE report suggests that these efforts could reap significant rewards.

A major factor in wind’s recent growth has been government subsidies and incentives. These have worked as intended given the growth of the domestic manufacturing industry. On the same day as the DOE report, the Energy Information Administration released an update on the state of subsidies in the US. This shows that wind and solar remain the largest recipients of grants, each receiving more than $5 billion in tax breaks and other financial aid. But the very mature fossil fuel industry still receives more than $3 billion, while conservation and nuclear power efforts fall short, at less than $2 billion each.

By akfire1

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