NREL study shows 20 percent wind possible by 2024

Half a million jobs, 25% drop in utility carbon pollution for just 2 cents a day per household

Back in May 2008, I reported on an amazing study on U.S. wind potential by the Bush Adminstration (see “Bush DOE says wind can be 20% of U.S. power by 2030 “” with no breakthroughs).” The study concluded 20% penetration was straightforward:

  • Annual installations need to increase by only a factor of three from current levels by 2018.
  • Costs of integrating intermittent wind power into the grid are modest. 20 percent wind can be reliably integrated into the grid for less than 0.5 cents per kWh.
  • No material constraints currently exist.
  • This would require 300,000 MW of wind, delivering electricity for about 6 to 8.5 cents per kilowatt hour, unsubsidized (i.e. no federal tax credit) and including the cost of transmission to access existing power lines within 500 miles of wind resource].
  • The 20% Wind Scenario could require an incremental investment of less than 0.06 cent (6 one-hundredths of 1 cent) per kilowatt-hour of total generation by 2030, or roughly 50 cents per month per household.

We are well on our way toward that target (see “EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus!“).  In the rest of this post, Tom Kenworthy, Senior Fellow at American Progress, updates the story with the latest study from the Department of Energy:

The DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has just completed a two-and-a-half year study of the technical, operational and economic requirements for integrating 20% to 30% wind power into the electrical grid that serves nearly three-quarters of the U.S. population.

Bottom line: it’s certainly doable by 2024 with “significant expansion of the transmission infrastructure,” and it will be a “highly cost effective way to reduce carbon emissions.”

“Twenty percent wind is an ambitious goal, but this study shows that there are multiple scenarios though which it can be achieved,” said David Corbus, who oversaw the study for NREL that looked at various combinations of onshore and offshore wind development to serve an area extending from the western border of the Great Plains to the eastern seaboard. But he said “we need to start planning” immediately for the complex upgrades to the eastern U.S. electrical transmission system, including some 22,000 miles of new high-tech lines and tens of billions of dollars in capital investments.

“We can bring more wind power online, but if we don’t have the proper infrastructure to move that power around, it’s like buying a hybrid car and leaving it in the garage,” said Corbus.

The NREL study is a critical milestone in achieving a core climate solution that will help stabilize CO2 emissions below 450 ppm. As American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode said: “This ground-breaking study demonstrates the major role wind energy can provide across the Eastern US, reducing and stabilizing electricity rates while protecting the environment. It also shows the urgency of transmission reform for both onshore and offshore wind development, because if we wait any longer we will not have the lines soon enough to tap these cost-effective domestic renewable resources.”

Because more than 70 percent of the U.S. population lives in the area serviced by the Eastern Interconnection that is the subject of the NREL study, said Corbus, bringing significant amounts of wind power to the eastern grid “goes a long way towards clean power for the whole country.”

Among the new report’s conclusions are that reductions in spending on fossil fuels that will come from replacing coal-fired electricity with wind generated power more than offset the costs of additional transmission. The cost of integrating intermittent wind power into the Eastern grid, the study concludes, would be just .2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

And what is the benefit to the nation of each household spending under 2 pennies a day to hit the 20% target?

  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation by 25 percent in 2030.
  • Reduce water consumption associated with electricity generation by 4 trillion gallons by 2030;
  • Increase annual revenues to local communities to more than $1.5 billion by 2030; and
  • Support roughly 500,000 jobs in the U.S., with an average of more than 150,000 workers directly employed by the wind industry.
  • This looks like a job for a strong renewable electricity standard for utilities plus a rising price on CO2 from a shrinking cap.

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    11 Responses to NREL study shows 20 percent wind possible by 2024

    1. Samuel AdaMS says:

      Can we find several utilities that deliver wind generated electricity unsubsidized to the consumers electric meter for under 14 cents per KWH? Thanks for a courteous response.

    2. Peter Sinclair says:

      also, do we have 2009 data for new installed wind capacity?

    3. Can we find any fossil fuel generated electricity that is not massively subsidized by the government in tax breaks, licenses, etc? Can we then calculate the actual price from the pollution — not just in the air, but the coal filth that apparently just lies around until and unless the dam(s) break?

    4. Atz says:

      Thanks for posting on this story. But your “2 cents a day” figure appears to be off by a factor of 10, at least:

    5. Chris Dudley says:

      another test

      [JR: I guess you pass!]

    6. Chris Dudley says:

      It strikes me from the figure on the front page that there is no class 7 wind resource included for offshore.

    7. Chris Dudley says:

      This is likely because one wants offshore wind to still be reachable by transmission lines. However, there is lots of offshore resource with average wind speed over 8.8 m/s at 50 m altitude. South of Greenland or Iceland are examples. So the class 7 resource is there, it is just a bit remote.

    8. Chris Dudley says:

      The cost of generating electricity in these regions would then be around $0.06/kWh. We saw recently that batteries for electric cars may come out to cost $250/kWh of capacity. This might be a fairly expensive battery technology but it may have advantages in terms of energy density. Lets assume that we get 9000 cycles of 75 per cent of initial capacity on average before selling the battery for scrap at $75/kWh of initial capacity. Then our cost to store electricity is $0.026/kWh. Now we need to inflate the cost of the electricity from the wind generator to $0.075/kWh to account for an 80 per cent battery efficiency and then add on the cost of storage to get $0.0101/kWh. Now, if these batteries are loaded on an old oil tanker and shuttled between the deep ocean (floating) wind turbines and a coastal power station, then one has dispatchable power that appears to cost less than any of the other offshore options shown in the figure.

    9. Chris Dudley says:

      Possibilities for cost reductions appear to be available as well. Charging-discharging methods with higher efficiency, use of larger turbines and subsidies for the power fleet owing to its usefulness in disaster relief may drive costs down further. It seems to me that wind penetration could get to 50 per cent by 2030 if this kind of offshore option were pursued. Reuse of power delivery infrastructure from coal power plants in tidal regions seems thrifty as well.

    10. Chris Dudley says:

      Wow! One word, o p t i m i z a t i o n, seems to have blocked this whole post.

      [JR: Possible, but it’s not in my “spam” word list. It’d have to be in WordPress.]