New report finds 31 states have the renewable resources to be energy self-reliant

A new report from the New Rules Project finds that over 60% of all U.S. states have the renewable energy resources to be “energy self-reliant.” (“Energy self-reliance,” as defined in the report, is a measure of how self-sufficient in energy generation a state could be if it relied entirely on its own renewable resources). The New Rules Project, a program of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, released its findings last week.

The report, “Energy Self-Reliant States: Second and Expanded Edition” describes how 31 states have the capacity to independently meet their states’ electricity demands by using wholly renewable energy sources, already at their disposal. Several states, the report notes, could use their renewable energy resources to produce electricity that meets over ten times their statewide demands. An additional ten states could generate enough electricity to meet well over half of their annual demands””again, solely from renewable sources.

The report’s analysis and projections only incorporates renewable energy resources that are currently commercially deployable:

These sources include geothermal, onshore and offshore wind, combined heat and power, traditional geothermal, rooftop solar PV, and micro hydro powers. Enhanced geothermal power, for example, is examined in the report yet not included in the final projections because the resource is considered an “immature renewable energy technology” in need of further improvement. With the development of such nascent technologies, an even greater amount of electricity demands could be met from renewable resources, especially in those states listed in the report as not energy self-reliant.

The New Rules Project’s estimates are quite promising. The report is conservative””it excludes various budding energy technologies in reaching its estimates and it does not even anticipate any advances in energy storage or efficiency. Nonetheless, while the data are compelling, the authors of the report hastily conclude that their findings indicate the need for a decentralized renewable energy transmission network. They argue that such a system should be supplanted by state and local networks. This conclusion does not line up.

Rather than local networks, a comprehensive and robust national clean-energy smart grid has the potential to maximize the economics, efficiency, and reliability of a renewable energy system.

First, as seen in the report’s estimates of state-by-state renewable energy production, most of the nation’s renewable energy resources currently lie in more remote areas of the country. Many of the states identified as “energy self-reliant” earn that title because they have both vast renewable resources and lower electricity demands. With a national clean-energy smart grid, we can better harness the enormous renewable energy potential that exists in remote states and transmit that energy to major energy markets.

Second, a national smart grid with reliable and profuse sources of energy can reduce any problems that result from rising grid congestion in regional markets, such as blackouts and subsequent costs. The authors of the study argue for state and local transmission networks, ignoring technical difficulties that could arise. We cannot afford more New York City style blackouts, and we do not need to create that risk.

The report finds that there are many states that have the renewable energy potential to produce enough clean-electricity that exceeds their own demands. This finding only strengthens our need for a national clean-energy smart grid. We should put the full potential of the renewable resource-rich states to work. In doing so, we can create more jobs in those very states by letting them serve the national market through a national transmission network.

Though the authors of the report offer policy recommendations that might not be the most beneficial for a future clean-energy economy, the estimates from which they induce those recommendations indicate that the United States has ample renewable resource potential””one that must be harvested to its fullest capacity.

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11 Responses to New report finds 31 states have the renewable resources to be energy self-reliant

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    I don’t think the contradiction that you suggest actually exists. Just as the global Internet is a “network of networks” that is robust precisely because it is an internetwork of distributed networks, the “comprehensive and robust national clean-energy smart grid” that you recommend will be a network of interconnected regional and local grids, some of which will themselves be internetworks of municipal, community, and even farm, factory or household micro-grids.

    Sure, there is probably a need to build some new “superhighway” mega-grids, for example to bring electricity from concentrating solar thermal power stations in the southwestern deserts to major cities and so on. But one of the huge benefits of renewable energy generation, particularly solar and wind, is that it is scalable not only to very large, utility-scale generation, but to medium-sized and small-scale generation, which will typically be applications where the power is generated locally to the point of use. The argument that we should strive to maximize distributed, small and medium scale generation for local distribution makes a lot of sense and doing so has many benefits.

    I think that ILSR’s thinking about the benefits of distributed, local, autonomous grids deserves a closer look and more thought than it is given in this article.

  2. Carl S says:

    The capital investment for a “smart grid” that could handle this would run into the trillions and take decades to build. If 31 states actually tried to go completely wind and solar, or even generated more than 10% of their power needs via solar/wind they would be besieged by rolling blackouts that would make Baghdad’s electrical supply look like a model of reliability.

  3. Jim Prall says:

    Carl S,
    That seems a bit apocalyptic. The plan is not “first unplug all the fossil generation, then start slowing adding renewables.” Utility planners know how to phase in new sources and balance different types of supply.
    If you are worried about some renewables being intermittent – solar PV and wind, in particular – you need to recall that no one such source would become even a majority of supply. Diversity of sources is key, and don’t forget what Joe keeps pointing out, that there are now renewable sources that can run 24/7 and/or be dispatched on demand: enhanced geothermal for one (just throttle the heat supply) and concentrating solar thermal with thermal carrier storage (insulated tank = works like a fuel tank: power on demand).

    Thanks again, Joe, for hammering away at the good news along with the “alarmist” case for action. I’ve just posted to my blog in observance of Blog Action Day on climate change, and I set out why I’m optimistic about renewables and CO2 reductions:

  4. SecularAnimist says:

    Carl S wrote: “If 31 states actually tried to go completely wind and solar, or even generated more than 10% of their power needs via solar/wind they would be besieged by rolling blackouts that would make Baghdad’s electrical supply look like a model of reliability.”

    You just made that up. You have NO facts to support that silly assertion. NONE. And it is just plain flat out wrong, as numerous studies, including peer-reviewed studies, have shown.

  5. alexy says:

    Although the authors note the likely need for energy storage in a 100% renewables scenario, they do not appear to include its cost in their estimations. Misleading results.

    On the other hand, the assessment of comparative costs for each State to achieve energy intensity comparable to CA is informative.

    Another aspect the report doesn’t address is scaling. For example, the authors note that PV could replace ~50% of Florida’s energy consumption. Assume: 61GW presently installed FL generating capacity; 6 hour/day peak PV production. FL would need 4x61x0.5 = ~120 GW of PV capacity, excluding losses for DC->AC conversion and storage. With 20% losses, FL would need ~150 GW assuming no growth in load. Present annual global production capacity for PV modules is less than 15GW. So, to replace 50% of its generating capacity, Florida alone would use all PV production in the world for roughly the next 10 years. Even with a dramatic ramp-up in PV production, say 50% a year, FL would still consume roughly 5 years of global production. This further underscores the importance of efficiency/energy intensity improvements.

  6. Carl S says:

    SecularAnimist:”You just made that up. You have NO facts to support that silly assertion. NONE. And it is just plain flat out wrong, as numerous studies, including peer-reviewed studies, have shown.”

    Nothing made up, I present only the facts.

    The state of Texas has the most wind power, with over 8300MW of installed capacity. ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, reported 2 stage 1 electrical emergencies and 5 stage 2 electrical emergencies this year, all of them due to sudden and unexpected drops in output from wind farms. Luckily there was enough spinning reserve (all natural gas) to make up for the drop and the emergencies did not lead to any widespread residential power outages (industrial outage were another story though).

    Now this 8300MW accounts for only 3.5% of all the power on the Texas grid, what do you suppose would happen in it accounted for even 5%? It would mean more power emergencies and rolling blackouts.

    As far as the “smart grid”, the main technical difference would be using a 1MVDC and plus T&D network. More volts, less line loss. While the US does have some 1MV lines in service, the vast majority of the country’s T&D system is 161Kv 230Kv and 345Kv. All of this would have to be upgraded, meaning new towers, lines, transformers, switchgears … well, you get the picture. This would cost trillions and take decades.

  7. alexy says:

    Carl S
    It is not correct that, “As far as the “smart grid”, the main technical difference would be using a 1MVDC and plus T&D network.” In fact, the “smart grid” does not mandate use of higher voltage, let alone DC. More important is the ability to monitor and control operation at both, more detailed and higher levels. Also, as a matter of minor detail, it will be rare for distribution the D in T&D) to use the high voltage levels you indicated. Further still, while the smart grid will be expensive and time consuming, the cost tends to be overstated while the benefits tend to be understated. As a specific example, new towers may not be needed in many if not most cases, except where entirely new transmission corridors are needed. Use of ACCC transmission cables in place of the standard ACSC cables allow much higher voltage and power on existing towers.

    With regard to the Texas wind power issues, see the following for a very good analysis. According to the analysis, in the specific instance discussed, demand spiked more than 4,000 MW, other producers didn’t meet scheduled commitments and, yes, wind production dropped by more than 1,000 MW. Based on this, it would appear that wind was less than 20% of the ostensible “cause” of this emergency. Also according to the analysis, weather forecasters had alerted authorities well in advance of the drop in wind and the increase in demand due to cold weather.

    This situation strongly highlights some of the changes needed in utility operations. It also highlights one of the benefits of a smart grid, as a basic element of the “smart grid”, demand response, was employed to mitigate the the load imbalance. This emergency does not support claims that, as a result of increased wind penetration into the electricity market we “would be besieged by rolling blackouts that would make Baghdad’s electrical supply look like a model of reliability.” With similar analysis, I suspect the other emergencies cited may also prove to have been preventable.

    Finally, this situation also highlights the desperate need for more informed and informative reporting, particularly related to politically incendiary topics such as renewable energy technology.

  8. alexy says:

    Please append the following to my last comment:

    In that regard, CP performs an invaluable service.

  9. John Farrell says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments on the report.

    @SecularAnimist hits on one of the major points – a smart grid is not the same as a national grid. A national grid’s primary purpose is the bulk transfer of electrons from one part of the country to another. It may not even significantly improve reliability because long distance generation and transmission cannot react as quickly to voltage drops, one of the major causes of grid instability.

    Smart grids use information technology to help electricity producers and consumers harmonize supply and demand, to respond more accurately to the actual cost of electricity (e.g. at the peak times), and to maximize the potential of existing infrastructure. There’s nothing inherently national about them.

    In the long run, transmission investments may be unavoidable to get to 100% renewable energy, but in the short run we could more profitably focus on plugging our new renewable energy generation into our existing grid infrastructure.

  10. Mark says:

    Further to Alexy in #7 (responding to the “facts” in #6), it is worth noting that Germany produces 10% or more of their electricity from solar and wind (around 14% from renewables, 3.5% of which is hydroelectric).

    No rolling blackouts. No apocalypse.

  11. Sam says:


    The most exciting thing about this report is the potential for many/most states to be moving forward on bringing clean energy to a workable scale (and cheap!) w/out having to wait for the smart grid. Why not go local?