The National Renewable Energy Laboratyes (NREL) has produced a wonderful study on what renewable energy could look like in the year 2050 (make sure you click on the graphics on the right side of the page). While I think they have been a bit timid in their scenario as they base it on current technology and an 80% penetration, at least it paints a picture of a high penetration renewables scenario. I still contend that we can and will be at very close to 100% renewables by 2050.
Some weaknesses I see include:
- No technology extrapolation – e.g. Pluggable Electric Vehicles (PEV) and Electric Vehicles (EV) were not included as part of the storage scenario despite accelerating improvements in battery technology.
- They predict just over 150GW of PV by 2050 which is over 35 years from now. Consider that 35 years ago using solar for utility power was nothing but a hope. Modules sold for $20 / Watt wholesale and world module production was in the neighborhood of 3 Megawatts per year. Today worldwide sales are closing in on 30 Gigawatts per year with modules selling for under $0.70 /W. To date the US has installed a little over 7GW 5.2 GW of this was completed since most of the scenario assessment from the study was done (p iv) with another 4 GW projected for 2013. To think that the US will only average 4GW / year over the next 35 years is a very conservative assumption.
- They suggest that we will have 440 GW of wind by 2050. Wind is a more mature industry so the rate of cost reduction will decline. However with the advent of high capacity factor machines Here also here and their ability to aggregate and be counted toward base load Here, their value is increasing while cost comes down. Current installations are at 60 GW . 35 years ago there was no utility scale wind power and now we are at 60GW in the USA. So to think that in the next 35 years we won’t see at least a 10x increase in deployment seems nearly impossible to contemplate.
To put these GWs into perspective, a Nuclear power plant is typically rated at a little under 1GW. Since it runs almost 100% of the time and modern turbines run about 45% of the time you can say that it takes about 2 GW of wind turbines to equal one nuclear plant. To compare this to the USA power consumption, the US consumes about 600GW of electricity on average.