Renewable Energy Can Supply 80% of US Electricity

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:

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Comments on “”

  1. Moto Electric

    Getting renewable energy from remote locations where solar panel arrays and wind farms are often located, to population centers where the electricity is needed, has been difficult up until now, and is one of the things keeping the US from being 100% powered by renewable energy.

    According to, a project aimed at helping to address this difficulty, the Tres Amigas SuperStation project, is about to break ground this summer, thanks to an influx of new investments.

    Located in Clovis, New Mexico, the SuperStation will connect the three major electrical grids in the US (East, West and Texas), allowing renewable energy to flow back and forth between them. Initially, Tres Amigas will only be able to transfer 750MW of power between the East and West grids, but eventually, solar energy harvested in California could easily be sent to Texas, as well.

    Besides making renewable energy available all over the country, the SuperStation hub could also help to make the nation’s power system more reliable, though smart grid technology will still be needed to modernize and secure our power system.

    Visit to find out more.

  2. Calamity Jean

    To limit building new transmission lines as much as possible, electric companies and the nation should promote rooftop solar. Pollution-free power generated near where it will be used is valuable because it avoids the expense of new lines.

  3. Rendell Praeker

    As long as we can control the electrical load in every household, we can get by on intermittent energy sources. If it gets too hot or too cold we need to be able to shut down central heat or cooling whenever we have to, in every house if necessary. We are not kidding around.

  4. marc

    if people would build smaller houses, (some houses in texas are larger than rhode island and alaska combined) or we could charge rates after 1500 kwh of say…$1.00 per kwh! that oughta cut usage!

  5. Russ Finley

    The study also (inadvertently) provides evidence that renewable energy will be a minority player in humanity’s energy portfolio.

    I dug into the same report and came away with a different take. It confirms that only about 32 percent of our total energy can be renewable. I.e., renewables are going to need a lot of help from other low carbon energy sources.

    Note how small a role solar plays (around 13%). The lion’s share will be bird blending wind, river ecosystem destroying hydro, and land usurping biomass (note that the drought has caused the price of corn and corn ethanol to spike). The report is about electrical power, not total energy use. A lot of hydro power will be silted in by the 2050 time frame.

    The Exaggerated Promise of Renewable Energy

  6. Rona Fried

    I feel the same you do about big hydro and don’t believe it should be in the “renewable energy” category. Same for biomass from anything other than waste, or even big wind farms that are sited inappropriately. One thing is for sure, however, the world must kick its fossil fuel addiction and trade-offs have to be made. I’d prefer to see human population drop, see humans take responsibility and consume much less, vastly reduce their energy demand and environmental footprint. The world’s forests should immediately be protected and agriculture should be immediately transitioned to sustainable – to sequester carbon, rather than releasing it as it is doing now. Doubtful this will happen anytime soon. Energy efficiency needs to be the majority player in the energy portfolio as countless studies show, at which time renewables can provide the rest combined with energy storage, according to many studies.


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