Renewable energy can supply 80% of US electricity demand by 2050, concludes a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures).
The technology needed is available today and is "more than adequate" combined with a more flexible electric system.
That increased electric system flexibility, necessary to balance supply with demand, can be met by a portfolio of flexible conventional generation, grid storage, new transmission, more responsive loads, and changes in power system operations.
The abundance and diversity of US renewable energy resources, such as geothermal, solar, wind and wave energy, can support multiple combinations of renewable technologies that result in deep reductions in electric sector greenhouse gas emissions and water use.
All regions of the US could contribute substantial renewable electricity supply in 2050, consistent with their local renewable resource base.
"While this analysis suggests such a high renewable generation future is possible, a transformation of the electricity system would need to occur to make this future a reality. This transformation, involving every element of the grid, from system planning through operation, would need to ensure adequate planning and operating reserves, increased flexibility of the electric system, and expanded multi-state transmission infrastructure, and would likely rely on the development and adoption of technology advances, new operating procedures, evolved business models, and new market rules," the report says.
But there are no insurmountable long-term constraints to renewable electricity technology manufacturing capacity, materials supply, or labor availability, says the report.
As so many other studies have showed, lowering the cost and improving performance of renewable technologies is the most important way to reduce the higher incremental cost of renewables.
They note that if energy demand were to rise significantly, that would challenge the conclusions, indicating the importance of concommitant attention to energy efficiency.
And since the analysis was conducted in 2010, it doesn't take into account the steep slide in solar prices, or the advent of the natural gas boom and its current low prices.
RE Futures, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is a collaboration of more than 110 contributors from 35 organizations including national labs, industry, universities, and non-governmental organizations.
This is most comprehensive analysis of high-penetration renewable electricity in the US to date. Its major conclusion is that renewable generation can play a more significant role in the US electricity system than previously thought.
Another report showed how renewable energy can supply 95% of the world's electricity by 2050, while creating 12 million jobs, published by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) back in 2010.
Here's NREL's report: