Renewable Energy Study Shows That Benefits Outweigh Costs In US

September 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Sept 24 (Reuters) – Wear-and-tear costs on coal and natural gas power plants from adding high levels of wind and solar energy in the U.S. West is small compared with the benefits of generating less power using fossil fuels, a federal study said Tuesday.
The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory determined the western power grid could accommodate 30 percent wind and 5 percent solar energy in 2017.
But to keep the grid reliable when the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining, utilities will have to ramp their gas and coal-fired plants up and down more frequently, a process known in the power industry as cycling.
The NREL said cycling gas and coal plants would add about $35 million to $157 million per year in operating and maintenance expenses, depending on how much wind and solar is actually installed, by 2020.
“Increased cycling to accommodate high levels of wind and solar generation increases operating costs by 2 percent to 5 percent for the average fossil-fueled plant,” Debra Lew, NREL project manager for the study, said in a release.
However, that is well below the estimated $7 billion per year that the increased use of wind and solar power would save in gas and coal fuel costs, NREL said.
In the summer of 2012, renewable energy sources provided about 13 percent of power capacity in the West, according to regional reliability coordinators.
Cycling induces some inefficiencies for coal and gas plants, Lew said, but still yields a significant net reduction in carbon emissions.
“Our high wind and solar scenarios, in which one-fourth of the energy in the entire western grid would come from these sources, reduced the carbon footprint of the western grid by about one-third,” Lew said. (Reporting by Scott DiSavino and Joe Silha in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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  • Top Renewable Energy Sources

    Renewable energy made up 9 percent of all energy consumed in 2011, according to the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a, and that number is a href=””predicted to grow throughout the next decade/a.

    Here’s a breakdown of the top sources of renewable energy in the country, from wind to water and everything in between.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Solar Power – 2 Percent

    Solar power and photovoltaic cells make up the smallest percentage of U.S. renewable energy production, but its future looks fairly promising. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway a href=””invested $2.5 billion in Calif. solar company SunPower/a earlier this year.

    Also, unlike other sources of renewables, energy can also be generated by small-scale solar installations (like on the rooftop of a home or business), anda href=”″ declining costs/a have made solar much more affordable.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Geothermal – 2 Percent

    Geothermal power captures naturally occurring heat from the earth to turn it into power. The renewable source is geographically dependent, a href=”″but the Western half of the U.S./a has many promising locations for power plants, a href=””like The Geysers in Calif./a, the largest geothermal power plant in the world.

    The U.S. is the largest producer of geothermal power on the planet, but growth hasn’t kept up with wind or solar development in recent years.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Waste – 5 Percent

    Believe it or not, burned garbage accounts for 5 percent of all renewable energy created in the U.S. each year. More than 29 million tons of municipal solid waste was burned in 2010 to create steam to spin turbines and generate power, a href=”″ and there are more than 75/a waste-to-energy plants in the country.

    Emissions regulations have been in place at waste incineration plants since the 1960s, but the a href=””EPA warned in a 2006 report that the toxins released/a during the process could pose a serious environmental risk if not strictly enforced.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Wind – 13 Percent

    The amount of wind power has grown for each of the past three years throughout the U.S. and accounted for the a href=”″largest growth in capacity/a of any energy resource in the country last year. Wind turbines now supply more than a href=”″50,000 megawatts a year,/a enough to power 13 million homes, according to Reuters.

    Federal tax credits, which were set to expire at the end of 2012, have made wind farms an attractive form of renewable energy. Congress a href=””approved an extension of the credits/a through the end of 2013.

    After production, wind turbines are net zero, meaning they require no energy and produce no emissions. The only problematic thing generated in some cases other than clean power has been a href=””a whole lot of noise/a.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Biofuel – 21 Percent

    Biofuels, like ethanol, are created from organic matter like corn or soybeans. Gasoline in the U.S. contains 9 percent of the resource by federal mandate under the a href=””Renewable Fuel Standard program,/a and more than a href=””40 percent of the corn crop/a last year was turned into biofuel.

    The resource is slightly more unstable than other renewables because it depends on the productivity of farms – a href=””drought or other environmental problems/a can significantly lower yields and increase prices.

    On average, a href=””ethanol has 20 percent fewer emissions/a than traditional gasoline but some types, like a href=””cellulosic ethanol,/a cut greenhouse gas emissions more than 85 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Wood – 22 Percent

    Timber accounts for nearly a quarter of all renewable energy created in the country. a href=””Rising energy costs /ahave led to an upswing in wood burning over the past decade, and nearly a href=””20 percent of New England homes /ause wood for heating, according to a National Geographic report.

    Although it may be a cheaper alternative, wood burning stoves and fireplacesa href=”” release more emissions of fine particles /a than other home heating methods, according to the EPA. Burning a href=””good wood in an efficient burner/a lowers toxic emissions and lost energy. Oh, and always have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors handy.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Hydroelectric – 35 Percent

    Almost all of the current hydroelectric power plants in the U.S. were a href=””built before the mid-1970′s/a, but it’s still the highest producing renewable energy source in the country.

    In 2011, 8 percent of all power created in the U.S. came from hydroelectric sources, but it’s also one of the most geographically dependent sources of energy. The Pacific Northwest gets more than half of all power via hydroelectric due to prime geography.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • How To Really Go Renewable

    Watch this TED talk on the missing link in the future of renewable energy.

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