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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:

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.”

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“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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