How Solar Can Help Stem the Tide of Climate Change
There may still be climate change deniers out there, but they’re getting fewer and further between. At this point, the science is pretty much indisputable: climate change is real, and if we don’t do something drastic to reduce our environmental impact, then we’re in for serious trouble in the not-too-distant future.
In 2015, the Obama administration took a historic step in reducing carbon pollution from power plants: the Clean Power Plan. This initiative aims to cut U.S. carbon emissions by 32% from 2005 levels.
Following the landmark UN Climate Change summit in Paris late last year, it became clear that while the summit’s directives were voluntary, the U.S. and many participating nations set even more ambitious targets for emissions reduction and renewable energy deployment.
Now, studies have suggested that by using renewable energy sources such as solar, it’s possible not just to meet our emissions reduction goals, but also to exceed them by an impressive amount.
Solving for the Weather Variable
Perhaps the largest obstacle confronting most ambitious renewable energy models is that unlike fossil fuels, solar and wind power stations are dependent on the weather. When the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing, power generation slows to a crawl.
Some have proposed that the affordable storage currently making their way to the market could offer a solution, but despite all the recent hype about Tesla’s Powerwall, reliable, low-maintenance battery technology has yet to reach maturity.
So a group of researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration decided to come up with a renewable energy strategy capable of helping the U.S. reduce its carbon emissions by 78% or more, relative to 1990 levels. That’s a huge reduction. Best of all, their model is technology agnostic and uses only existing and widely available solutions.
How does this new NOAA model accomplish these seemingly impossible goals? By linking our nation’s electrical grid together, from sea to shining sea.
A Big (but Doable) Idea
At the moment, our national electrical grid is divided into three separate interconnections. Each of these sectors operates independently, and very little energy is transferred between them. These interconnections are further subdivided into sectors known as balancing authorities, chopping the system of supply and demand into bite-sized bits.
This elaborate subdivision wasn’t an issue in the past, but it poses a problem for renewable energy sources, because supply and demand tend to be relatively uniform across these small fiefdoms – when the wind isn’t blowing in one part of the balancing authority, it probably isn’t in other parts, either.
Back to the NOAA model, which asks the question: what if giant high-voltage power lines joined those three big interconnections we mentioned previously?
The wind is always blowing somewhere in the U.S., and while the same can’t be said for the sunshine, it goes without saying that being able to generate solar electricity from morning in Florida to evening in California makes for a long day of generation.
According to the study, this newly linked power system would go a long way in balancing the overall supply and demand in the continental US.
Solar Will Play a Starring Role
If NOAA’s model is followed to the letter, the U.S. will build out 1,530 GW of low-carbon energy capacity by 2030.
The largest share – nearly 500 GW – would come from wind power. Natural gas would come in second, with just over 450 GW. Solar energy would account for about 380 GW of installed capacity. Nuclear and hydroelectric power would round out the portfolio.
Why Wait for 2030? You Can Go Solar Now
Unlike most of the low-carbon energy options on the list, solar is ideal for small-scale installations such as your home or business. Why wait for world leaders to get their act together in time for 2030? You can go solar now!
[Photo via: Ansnuclearcafe]