100×50 or sooner!
I would like to see 100% renewables in the US by NO LATER than 2050. Sooner is better for sure. 100% renewables in the US will create the technology scale such that renewable energy will move worldwide in near lock step. So to reach for 100% renewables in the US is to drive the world to or near the same goal. To do this requires conquering cost and intermittency.
With cost we are actually already there or nearly there. However for that to have an impact we need a real market that includes the external costs associated with non-renewable sources. That problem can be addressed either by compensatory approaches such as a carbon tax fed back into the renewables economy to fund procurement or internalization of costs that, today, are externalized.
To internalize costs we could, for example, require the nuclear industry to fully fund insurance for disasters on the scale of Fukushima rather than having the federal government (tax payers) responsible for major nuclear disasters. This would have the electricity consumer more able to vote with their dollars. Another example is to have coal produced electricity include the cost to society for asthma induced by their emissions. This would then be paid into the healthcare system to lower health insurance premiums. Why should my health premiums pay for coal induced asthma if my electricity comes from cleaner sources? As a capitalist, I want to be able to vote with my dollars. An example of results from the study of real costs can be seen here http://wp.me/p14Y5F-8z .
Most think that solving the intermittency problem for renewables is all about energy storage. While it is partly about energy storage, the need for storage can be dramatically reduced by creating a robust fully integrated national electrical grid. The larger the geographical area from which wind power is obtained and aggregated, the less intermittency. In fact, by interconnecting wind farms a significant percentage of their output can be treated as baseload and therefore not require compensatory storage http://wp.me/p14Y5F-6P . However other sources of storage exist such as molten salt in power towers, pumped storage and compressed air. More recently, the idea of including electric cars as part of a massive distributed battery has caught on with people beyond the visionary set.
Recently an NREL study came out that looked in depth at how we could get to 80% renewables by 2050 using existing technology http://wp.me/p14Y5F-93 . I was thrilled to see the US government FINALLY acknowledging this possibility (EIA has been way off on their projections of renewables for years leading, I am sure, to some of the bad policy decisions that our government has made). This study shows, using wonderful graphics, how wind could be developed and solar and pumped hydro to create an interconnected renewable energy electric power system that addresses intermittency.
My disappointment in the NREL study is that it failed to show the impact of EVs or to discuss their impact on intermittency and how they are the missing link in creating a truly zero carbon energy infrastructure for electricity and transportation (except air travel). But it is a state. We now have a base case that we can get to high penetration of renewables by 2050. I think that it is only politics that prevents us from getting there by 2035. I look forward to helping to create the energy literate next generation that can and will bring this to pass as more Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) instructors adopt the Solar Learning Lab™ http://www.solarlearninglab.com
in their classrooms. It utilizes data from real renewable energy data in the teaching of STEM subjects with curriculum aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards – http://www.nextgenscience.org/