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.