Solar energy could supply one-third of power in US West, study finds

Solar energy could supply one-third of power in US West
Solar panels. Credit: iStock image

( —Low-cost solar power could supply more than a third of all energy needs in the Western U.S., if the nation can hit its targets for reducing the cost of solar energy, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

The UC Berkeley scientists used a detailed computer model they developed of the West's to predict what will happen if the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) succeeds with its SunShot Initiative, which aims to make solar power more affordable and accessible to Americans. The model also considered the effects of enacting proposed carbon policies, such as a carbon cap.

They found that achieving the SunShot target would allow solar to provide more than a third of electric power in the region by 2050, displacing natural gas, nuclear and carbon capture and sequestration technologies. This would reduce enough to help minimize the negative impacts of climate change, the researchers said.

"Given strategic long-term planning and research and policy support, the increase in can be contained as we reduce emissions," said study leader Dan Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy in UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group. "Saving the planet may be possible at only a modest cost."

Kammen and his UC Berkeley students are developing the computer model, called SWITCH, in the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) to study generation, transmission and storage options for the United States west of the Kansas/Colorado border as well as in northwest Mexico and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.

"Our goal is to study how we can keep costs low and ensure that the grid stays reliable as we transition to an with lower emissions and higher levels of intermittent renewable generation," said first author Ana Mileva, a UC Berkeley graduate student in the Energy and Resources Group and RAEL.

Solar energy could supply one-third of power in US West
If the SunShot solar power cost targets are reached and new nuclear plants aren’t built, the electricity system in the Western U.S. in 2050 could look like the above, with emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels. Pie charts show the proportion of different types of energy sources generating power and flowing between load areas. Credit: Dan Kammen and Ana Mileva, RAEL lab, UC Berkeley


SunShot is the DOE's effort to work with industry, government and researchers to bring the price of solar power down to that of conventional power by 2020. The DOE currently invests about $300 million per year in solar technologies.

Kammen said that carbon caps or taxes will be needed to provide an initial incentive for the utility industry to move toward low-carbon electricity sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, while some previous studies have emphasized the high cost of carbon taxes or caps, the new study shows that achieving the SunShot targets could greatly moderate the increased costs of electric power. Solar power could save consumers 14 percent, or more than $20 billion, annually by 2050 while still achieving carbon goals.

"The lower estimated ratepayer cost is also partly attributable to the coordinated investment in new power plants, transmission lines, storage, and demand response in the SWITCH model," Kammen said. "Using such a comprehensive strategy could substantially reduce the actual consumer cost of meeting carbon emission targets."

The article titled "SunShot reduces costs and uncertainty in future low-carbon electricity systems" has been accepted for publication in the journal Environmental Science and Technology,

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Aug 02, 2013
"... if the nation can hit its targets for reducing the cost of solar energy, ..."

I've been hearing this same caveat for 50 yrs. Good luck!

Aug 02, 2013
Global Warming icon James Hansen recently provided some solar realism to bolster his support for nuclear energy:

"The insightful cynic will note: "Now I understand all the fossil fuel ads with windmills and solar
panels – fossil fuel moguls know that renewables are no threat to the fossil fuel business." The
tragedy is that many environmentalists line up on the side of the fossil fuel industry, advocating
renewables as if they, plus energy efficiency, would solve the global climate change matter.

Can renewable energies provide all of society's energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is
conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables
will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole
is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.'

(from 'Baby Lauren and the Kool-Aid')

Aug 02, 2013
And on the other hand, actually measuring what is happening yields this:

"Despite remarkable growth, solar and wind power aren't making a dent in carbon emissions."


Aug 03, 2013
"Despite remarkable growth, solar and wind power aren't making a dent in carbon emissions." - InsaneNonsense

solar continues to grow at current rates, then it will expand by a factor of 7 over the next 10 years and a factor of 50 over the next two decades.

The Chinese understand exponential growth. That is why they have cornered the solar production market.

Coal use isn't growing nearly as fast, and faces limits to production and infrastructure expansion.

Aug 03, 2013
"In reality the solar plants even in ideal location cannot pay itself." - Franklins

Why does the link you provide to support your assertion, not support your assertion?

Aug 03, 2013
"Global Warming icon James Hansen recently provided some solar realism" - NikkieTard

Hansen is correct of course, As a result of Republican/Corporate treason and deceit, insufficient time remains to solve the global warming problem through the deployment of solar alone.

What NikkieTard can't seem to comprehend is that reliance on unsustainable sources of energy is unsustainable.

It is a difficult concept only for the wilfully ignorant and the brain dead.

Aug 03, 2013
"I've been hearing this same caveat for 50 yrs. Good luck!" - NikkieTard

NikkieTard hears but apparently can not see.


Aug 03, 2013
Neither the continent-spaning webs of HVDC grids nor energy storage on all different time scales from intra-day to seasonal exists or will exist.

The solar + gas alliance is a bridge to nowhere. It's a bridge to continued gas burning and gas production from underground coal gasification and similar stupidity.

Aug 05, 2013
Can you say Solyndra - $ 500 million DOE boon doogle !

Solar and Wind are only pieces of a bigger puzzle.

Nuclear, oil, natural gas, biofuels, to mention a few are other pieces.

Aug 05, 2013
"Can you say Solyndra - $ 500 million DOE boon doogle !" - Holoman

Solyndra is gone and now America is hostage to the Chinese in Solar Cell Availability.

Chinese cut their prices. Push Solyndra into bankruptcy, and Republican Americans demand that America cut and run.


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