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 Univ. of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley).
The UC Berkeley scientists used a detailed computer model they developed of the west’s electric power grid to predict what will happen if the U.S. Dept. 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 photovoltaic technology 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 greenhouse gas emissions 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 electricity costs can be contained as we reduce emissions,” said study leader Dan Kammen, Distinguished Prof. 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 U.S. 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 electricity system 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.