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Could Current Renewable Technologies Meet 80% of America's Electric Demand by 2050?

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Investigating the extent to which renewable energy can meet electricity demands in the United States over the next several decades, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has come to some telling conclusions.

Among several key findings in which the NREL has compiled into a report entitled, Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures)one conclusion stands out among the rest:

“Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country.”

In its report, the NREL further explains that the abundance and diversity of renewable energy resources in America can support multiple energy technologies, which will allow for dramatic reductions in electric sector greenhouse gas emissions and water use.

These findings stand in the face of the fossil fuel industry which has proclaimed renewable technologies are not capable of meeting the energy demands of the American economy.  This view has been adopted by the Republican party and its presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.

At a campaign stop in Colorado in May, Mitt Romney called Obama’s energy policies archaic:  “His policies are rooted in perspectives of the past.  His ideas about energy are simply out of date.  His other policies flow from the thinking of the liberals from years ago.”

Romney’s “forward-thinking” energy policy revolves around increasing domestic production of oil, gas, and coal.  This stance makes sense, considering his top energy advisor has worked as a lobbyist for the country’s largest coal producer, Peabody Coal. 

Historically, coal has been the major energy source fuelling the country’s electric sector.  However, with increasing environmental regulations on the emissions from coal-fired power plants, combined with increased natural gas production has seen coal’s market share drop.

According to the NREL, both of these energy sources could be reduced to minor contributors to the electric sector by 2050.  The government-funded laboratory says this scenario depends almost entirely on re-tooling the electric grid, allowing it to be more flexible, responsive, and capable of storing energy.

Image Credit: almagami/Shutterstock

Nathanael Baker's picture

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