Interesting opinion piece in the Washington Post recently about why policymakers may be underestimating wind and solar in the United States.
Brad Plumer ticks off three points to support his view that wind and solar could play a much bigger part in the United States’ energy future.
First of all, according to Plumber, “Solar is growing exponentially”: last year, over 55 terawatt-hours of solar energy were consumed around the world. Even though this is about 1/100 of the amount of power the United States uses in a single year, solar has continued to gain momentum as panel and equipment supply rises and prices drop.
If solar can sustain this growth rate, it’s possible that 10% of the world’s electric supply could be solar-generated in the next 6 years.
Secondly, government agencies have continually underestimated renewable energy growth over the last several years.
The International Energy Agency, for example, predicts that solar will only capture a 4.5 percent share of the market by 2035. But over a decade ago, in 2000, the IEA’s World Energy Outlook report stated that renewable energy contribution would reach 3 percent in 2020; that percentage was actually achieved far earlier, in 2008.
Subsidies and government support around the world, particularly in Germany, China and the United States, has had a lot to do with renewable energy’s success, and isn’t a certainty for the future by any means.
Lastly, Plumer says that the U.S. could technically become reliant on renewables. He points to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study that supposed the U.S. had to generate 80 percent of its electricity solely from renewables by 2050; the study found it to be technically possible.
While renewable energy critics say that the sun doesn’t always shine on solar panels, and that wind doesn’t always blow to propel wind turbines, the NREL study concluded that wind is always blowing and sun is always shining somewhere at any given time. In the off-hours, other renewable energy sources would bridge the gap. Grid operators would be responsible for maintaining a delicate balance between the two.
Read Plumer’s complete story here, including some nifty maps and references for the statistics quoted above.