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Published on December 11th, 2012 | by Adam Johnston


Wind, Solar, & Storage Could Power Full Electric Grid Cost Effectively 99.9% Of The Time By 2030: Report

December 11th, 2012 by  

Imagine, if you will clean, renewable energy almost fully powering a full-scale electricity grid.

Ok, it’s hard to believe now, but with recent advances in wind and solar power, it may not be that far off.

Image Credit: Wind turbine via pedrosala / Shutterstock

And, it may come within the next two decades, if researchers from the University of Delaware (UD) and Delaware Technical College (DTCC) have their way.

A new report from the two institutions suggests that, by 2030, renewable energy could power a large electrical grid a stunning 99.9%, and at close to today’s energy costs!

Analysts at UD and DTCC suggest a well-developed mixture of solar, wind, fuel cells, and battery storage would produce greater supply than electricity demand, plus keep energy costs low.

“These results break the conventional wisdom that renewable energy is too unreliable and expensive,” said co-author, professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment Willett Kempton in the phys.org article.

“The key is to get the right combination of electricity sources and storage—which we did by an exhaustive search—and to calculate costs correctly,” he said.

Researchers used a model with 28 billion combinations of storage schemes, and renewable energy sources. Each combination was tested over historical hourly weather data and electricity use over a four-year span. Analysts used data for the model from PJM Interconnection, representing one-fifth of the US electricity grid, which spans 13 states, ranging from the Midwest (Illinois) to the East Coast (New Jersey).

This report was a bit different than others in that it looked at cutting energy costs as much as possible, rather than simply focusing on matching energy generation to energy generation use.

Meanwhile, the report found that, creating more electricity than required during regular hours to meet high energy use (but during low wind hours) would have lower costs compared to storing the excess energy for higher consumption later (of course, this is based on the assumption we won’t see any storage breakthroughs in that time).

Storage can be more costly because storage mediation, hydrogen tanks, or batteries need to be bigger for an extra hour of energy held.

So, one new finding that should warm the hart of clean-tech fans out there is researchers believe a huge electrical system could be running nearly completely on renewable energy.

“For example, using hydrogen for storage, we can run an electric system that today would meeting a need of 72 GW, 99.9 percent of the time, using 17 GW of solar, 68 GW of offshore wind, and 115 GW of inland wind,” said Cory Budischak, instructor in the Delaware’s Technical Community College Energy Management Department and a U of D alumnus.

Wind and solar energy generators need higher installed gigawatt (GW) capacity; unlike conventional generators, because renewable energy forms do not achieve maximum capacity as much of the time, the report found. One gigawatt would equal 250,000 rooftop solar systems, or 200 large wind turbines.

Researchers gazed 18 years into the future on what a large-scale clean electricity system would look like and some of the findings are very interesting:

The study sheds light on what an electric system might look like with heavy reliance on renewable energy sources. Wind speeds and sun exposure vary with weather and seasons, requiring ways to improve reliability. In this study, reliability was achieved by: expanding the geographic area of renewable generation, using diverse sources, employing storage systems, and for the last few percent of the time, burning fossil fuels as a backup. During the hours when there was not enough renewable electricity to meet power needs, the model drew from storage and, on the rare hours with neither renewable electricity or stored power, then fossil fuel. When there was more renewable energy generated than needed, the model would first fill storage, use the remaining to replace natural gas for heating homes and businesses and only after those, let the excess go to waste.

Analysts, besides pointing to the possibility of a large, clean electric grid, pointed to such a grid being just as cost-effective. Researchers looked at technology costs in 2030, in comparison with fossil fuel prices today, not factoring subsidies. The report also factored as part of fossil fuel costs, external pricing, including air pollution due to fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, estimates in the report point to capital costs in 2030 for wind and solar to be 50% less than today’s capital prices, while maintenance costs would be in line with current costs.

“Aiming for 90 percent or more renewable energy in 2030, in order to achieve climate change targets of 80 to 90 percent reduction of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the power sector, leads to economic savings,” the report’s authors noted in the article.

Source: Phys.org

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About the Author

is expected to complete the Professional Development Certificate in Renewable Energy from the University of Toronto by December 2017. Adam recently completed his Social Media Certificate from Algonquin College Continuing & Online Learning. Adam also graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a three-year B.A. combined major in Economics and Rhetoric, Writing & Communications in 2011. Adam owns a part-time tax preparation business. He also recently started up Salay Consulting and Social Media services, a part-time business which provides cleantech writing, analysis, and social media services. His eventual goal is to be a cleantech policy analyst. You can follow him on Twitter @adamjohnstonwpg or check out his business www.salayconsultiing.com.

  • Herb

    Adam, the usage and syntax illiteracy in universities and especially J-school these days is amazing. Something your professors haven’t taught you is that the speaker or source of a quote should always go first, followed by the colon and statement. The title of your article should read . . .

    Report: Wind, Solar, & Storage Could Power Full Electric Grid Cost Effectively 99.9% Of The Time By 2030

  • Jens Stubbe

    Interesting that in 2012 they envisioned 50% renewable capital cost reductions by 2030, which is not far from the actually achieved capital cost reduction achieved only three years after. Wind is down by 30% and solar down by 40% and storage down by 60%.

    No one in their right mind would imagine just 50% capital cost reductions by 2030 from today.

    Solar is predicted to reach 50% reduction in this decade and wind dropped 6% between 2013 and 2014 year after having dropped 15% annually between 2009 and 2013. Judging from the intensified competition there is likely that the cost drop will resume again and it is likely to see 50% cost drop by 2020. As for storage 50% cost drop by 2020 is predicted by Tesla that expect to become the largest user and producer of batteries in the world by then.

    It would be nice to see a new study not merely content to see 100% renewable grid but 100% renewable future as electricity from renewables is very close to becoming cheaper than crude oil as the raw material for the petro chemical industry.

  • It sure would help if you would read the research BEFORE writing a blog post about it!!!

  • Bob_Wallace

    Since this article was written I’ve had time to get my hands on the Budischak, et al. paper and give it a close read. I think it is a very important paper, very important.

    We need to quit burning fossil fuels. That means we need alternative energy sources and the options seem to be renewable energy (wind, solar, tidal, etc.) or nuclear. If we wish to avoid the multiple problems of a nuclear future then we have to make sure that four important concerns about renewable energy are answered.

    1. Is there enough non-fossil fuel, non-nuclear energy available to provide all the energy desired worldwide?

    2. Do we have the technology necessary to turn that energy into useful forms?

    3. Can we deal with the variable supply nature of some forms of renewable energy?

    4. Can we afford to operate our economies using nothing but renewable energy?

    Jacobson and Delucchi (2009) answers questions 1 and 2 in the affirmative.

    They surveyed the most abundant renewable energy sources (wind, solar, tidal, hydro, etc.) and found we had far more than enough. They calculated the number of solar panels, wind turbines, etc. we would need to install to produce all the energy we would need in 2030.

    Budischak, et al. (2013) answers questions 3 and 4 in the affirmative.

    They ran simulations against four years of actual grid demand against the weather (availability of wind and solar). They found that we could power the grid from almost nothing other than wind, solar and storage. That “almost nothing” was using natural gas turbines for a total of 35 hours in four years. Five times in four years it was necessary to call on NG for an average of seven hours each time. And the cost was approximately what we pay now for electricity.

    These two studies show us the route forward. Worst case is that we can power ourselves with renewables plus insignificant amounts of gas. All the improvements we make to our generation and storage systems over the next two decades simply make the job easier and cheaper.

    Jacobson and Delucchi

    Budischak, et al.

  • Dave2020

    Here’s another wave power idea with storage potential.

    “Green energy company Ecotricity, known currently for being involved in wind and solar energy, has also today announced that it is moving into wave power.”


    “Ecotricity’s Dale Vince said that his company’s investment will make a commercial scale version operational in 12 months, and install 200 Searasers around the British coastline in five years. He is predicting that whereas natural gas turbines generate electricity within a cost range of 8–11p/kWh and onshore wind of 9.4p, one day Searaser will do so for under 2p per unit.”

    I live top centre of the map, NE of the ‘spiky’ Gower Peninsular 🙂

  • Dave2020

    The choir is singing loud and clear, but could find a better harmony.

    “Hopefully someone is figuring out how to harness that energy.”

    I did that 10 years ago, but didn’t realise at the time that the words “Integrated Displacement” in the title of the patent I filed were as relevant to wave energy converters as they are to Stable Suspension. It took a few years to make the serendipitous connection!

    Naturally I couldn’t afford the IP rights, then or now, so the idea remains on the shelf – the patent application was withdrawn. And the lunatics running the asylum tell me that “IP rights incentivise investment” – Lord Drayson. Minister for Science and Innovation 16 Oct. 2009.

    “Coal and oil and gas are sooo 20th century!” You and I know that Neil, along with thousands of others around the world, but the only way to persuade the ruling elite (both public and private) is to prove to them – “Look you silly bastards, you can secure cheap electricity for ever AND better profits if you do THIS!” i.e. invest in the technology of the future. But they’re wearing short-term blinkers.

    The Pelamis has been 14 years in gestation and I fear it may never prove to be commercially viable. Make the WEC an essential (stabilizing) component of floating wind turbines and reduce the cost of BOTH. This will ONLY work with integral energy storage BEFORE generator. (it’s an engineering thing)

    And that novel step sets it apart from all other energy storage technology.

    Why? Because it is the ONLY energy storage design that DOES NOT consume electricity. Think about it.

    Yes Bob, the poor interconnection of both US and European grids must be addressed, but that strategy is still inferior. The right energy storage pays much higher dividends and slashes operational costs every year for ever. Grid scale energy storage should not actually be ‘on’ the grid. Don’t generate electricity and then store it – that’s silly!

    NB: ALL 5 studies in the link I gave you have at least 50% wind! That’s a fair indication of the way things should be going, I think – BUT:-

    The EWEA visualizes 150GW of offshore wind in European waters by 2030. If that is deployed without commensurate storage it will be a very expensive mistake. With energy storage before generator it will demonstrate the cheapest solution for Europe’s electricity needs – the best mix of renewables. Everybody thinks that electricity storage is expensive, but they’re not thinking straight.

    I know Bob doesn’t like it, but this is only one third (and not a good example) of the solution to get us to electric power nirvana:-

    And finally: This is the Electricity Market Framework, as designed by the UK government’s privatisation legislation:-

    “I asked the generators if they’d be willing to build storage capacity, and they don’t think it’s their responsibility; they think it’s a network function. And if you ask the network operators, they say that government regulations say that they’re not allowed to own generating capacity and storage, ironically, is classified as generating capacity; but if someone were to offer it as a contract service, such as a demand aggregator, they’d be happy to pay for it. So I spoke to them, and they said they’d be happy to offer the service, but they aren’t in the business of investing in capital-intensive equipment and the intermittency wasn’t their problem.”


    You have to laugh at this exquisite farce, or you’d be reduced to tears.

    Peace and harmony, a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year to all.

  • Dave2020

    “Storage plus renewables is a marriage made in heaven. Wind moves about a lot and the quality of wind in California is not very good. It blows at night and dies during the day. We can use storage to help moderate that. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. But it’s expensive and it has to come down in price.”


    We just have to demonstrate that it’s not expensive, if you do it right.

    No problem there then!!

    • Wind tends to blow more at night and solar works during the day – combine these both with storage, and add peaker plants burning methane from sewage and/or farm waste and we’d be getting close to what Germany is already doing. Add wave and tidal power on the coasts, geothermal where available, and solar heat plants in deserts – and we’ll have no need to burn fossil fuels at all. Coal and oil and gas are sooo 20th century!


    • Bob_Wallace

      Bringing Wyoming wind to the Western grid is going to help things out. It tends to start picking up about the time the Sun is dropping out along the coast.

      A new HVDC line will tie together the Pacific Intertie and Intermountain Intertie hooking in Wyoming wind and creating a loop from SoCal through Utah to Wyoming, to Oregon and Washington hydro, and back down through CV and NV to SoCal. That’s going to help a lot with creating the sort of large, unified grid that Kempton’s group studied in the Northeast.

      That loop will grab NV geothermal and should allow geothermal from the newly discovered massive field in Utah to hook in.

      The larger net we can cast, the less variable the input should be and that lowers the amount of storage/overbuilding we need to do.

      Kempton’s people showed us that the job can be done with almost no fossil fuels and done for an acceptable price. We’ll whittle away at that last 0.1% to 10% fossil fuel need and pull costs down.

      If we start tying some of the larger grids together via things like Tres Amigas we can further damp out variability and further lower storage needs.

  • Dave2020

    There are five studies here:-


    That reach similar conclusions, but only one lists energy storage (55 TWh/yr) and another includes 142TWh/yr from power imports, so it’s not self-sufficient.

    In my view, the best storage option is missing from all these scenarios. It was also omitted from the Energy Futures Lab report by Imperial College.


    Pumped Hydro Energy Storage is the most established utility scale storage technology, but “geographically constrained”. I figure, remove that constraint in a similar way to this:- http://www.gravitypower.net/

    I get flak from the greens and the greys – why on Earth is that? From a recent post here:-


    “your seemingly boundless support for wind”

    Actually, I am a severe critic of (conventional) wind, which is why my design proposals are transformational. I figure it is daft to stick billions of pounds worth of equipment into the sea bed, if it ONLY gives you a variable supply of electricity from wind. The logical outcome is – my design has integral energy storage, it incorporates a wave energy converter and it floats. It also discards the industry-standard HAWT in favour of a new low cost, robust VAWT; for very sound engineering reasons. (as Bob and Zach may recall)

    BTW, the Futures Lab report estimates savings of £2bn/year on grid operations, once there’s adequate storage on the UK network.

    • Pumped hydro can also work with the reservoir on level ground and the hydro generation deep underground. Granted, it may cost more, but maybe we can reuse spent mines?

      Solar heat storage is here and now; and so are flywheel storage systems. Several new cheap battery technologies are coming very soon; particularly the MIT liquid metal batteries.


      • Bob_Wallace

        Germany is working on using abandoned mines for pump-up. There are other plans afoot to build artificial reservoirs on “high and low” land and to connect them with a tunnel down the mountain.

        But interest in pump-up seems to be waning. I suspect those with the best information sources see low cost batteries coming our way.

        Batteries have great advantage. There’s almost no problem with siting. They can be quickly installed at either the generation or use end of the grid which reduces transmission needs. They can be built in a factory and trucked to the site. They can be picked up and moved if desired. They’re modular, if one goes down it won’t take the entire site along with it. Truck in a replacement in a couple of hours.

        • Batteries have much lower losses, and they would be very helpful, even before we make the switch to renewable energy. Base load plants like coal and nuclear are hard to ramp down at night, so batteries would absorb the excess and this would then reduce the need for peaker plants in the day.

          Are we just preaching to the choir, here? 🙂


          • Bob_Wallace

            Mid-week praise session. Good for our souls.

            Hopefully the choir keeps on getting bigger and bigger. Pretty soon we should be able to drown out the naysayers….

          • In all seriousness, we’ve built up a much stronger choir in the past year or so, and it helps a ton in quickly and thoroughly debunking myths that get dropped in here by trolls. It’s a tremendous help and relief for me, and helps us to get much more done on the production side (since I spend much less time ‘discussing’ with such people here in the comments).

            So, big thanks to you both and others for joining in the comments here! (Btw, I also learn a ton by keeping on eye on these. Big thanks.)

          • For the most part, but the choir does have to practice. 😀

  • There are at least three other kinds of storage in addition to batteries: elevated reservoir hydro, high speed flywheels, and underground compressed air. Also, with solar heat plants, molten salt stored underground.

    We have other renewable sources that are available right now that are pretty steady: wave power machines and tidal power.

    Germany uses a combination of solar PV, wind, biogas (methane from farm waste) and elevated reservoir hydro for buffering storage.

    Taken in total all renewable energy sources could provide SIXTEEN TIMES as much energy as all the people on the whole earth could need. So, collecting enough to get 99.9% of what we need is quite feasible.


    • Bob_Wallace

      It looks like we’re close to being able to roll out tidal on large scale. The early turbines seem to working pretty well.

      But I’m unaware of any proven wave generation? You know of anything past the experimental level?

      I take this article as a very encouraging “Yes We Can” piece of research. We could convert up to 90+% renewable/clean grid using the technology we have in hand and our ‘all-in’ cost for electricity would be about the same.

      Worst case is very acceptable.

      That means, to me, that as time goes on we should be able to supply more of that last 10% with renewables and cut costs.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Here’s an example of the sort of cost savings that could “appear out of nowhere”….

        GE is developing a much cheaper wind turbine blade in which a lightweight metal frame is covered with a fabric skin. They estimate that it would bring costs down 25% to 40%.

        Some significant savings would come from being able to assemble blades on site rather than having to truck in from a factory.


      • Hi Bob,

        There are at least 2 or 3 companies that already build and install wave power systems. One is in New Jersey ( http://www.oceanpowertechnologies.com/ ) and another is in Scotland ( http://www.pelamiswave.com/ ), and the 3rd is (I think) in the Netherlands.

        The two types of systems are a) magnetic and b) hydraulic. The New Jersey OPT company has an array of buoys that each have magnets in a wire coil and as the waves move up and down, they generate low frequency AC. This is stored in an onboard capacitor, and then when the charge is built up enough, it inverts it to 50/60Hz and sends it to shore via a cable. An array of 60 buoys could generate 1mW – or maybe 10mW, I can’t remember.

        The Scotland Pelamis company (and the Dutch one too?) use long (100 foot?) sections of steel tubes (about five of them together) and as the wave swells, the hinged joints move with pumps hydraulic fluid to accumulators, and then when the pressure is sufficient, the fluid spins generators and the power is transmitted to shore with a cable. I think each 500′ machine generates 0.75mW, if my memory serves.

        I first heard about these on Science Friday back in 2007: http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/08/10/2007/wave-power.html


        • Bob_Wallace

          Thanks Neil. I knew about those but it seems to me that they have to yet prove themselves.

          There’s another wave system that uses compressed air from waves hitting a breakwater to drive turbines, but that seems to be a rather site limited approach.

          With tidal it seems like there are successful turbines that can be deployed now. They seem to be proving themselves over time.

          Wave is a powerful resource. Hopefully someone is figuring out how to harness that energy.

          • I think they are well proven – they have actual installations up and running for several years; as long or longer than the tidal turbines as far as I know.


          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m not sure any of them are supplying significant power to the grid. Tidal turbines are being installed at the commercial level.

            But, whatever, progress seems to be happening. Maybe before long tidal and wave will be taking their places as well-developed technologies.

            I’m thinking that some tidal turbines dropped in the Gulf Stream could do wonders for renewable penetration in the Southeast.

          • I think you’re right – we need a wide variety of renewable sources in different areas. Wave power systems are in the North Sea, and in Australia (I think) and tidal power in the Bay of Fundy and the major ocean currents, too. There was a recent experimental installation of a bi-directional turbines in Cobscook Bay – they work in both directions without turning around.

            The more renewable sources we have, the better!


      • Tidal power is harmful to aquatic life!! Think of all the poor fish!!

    • Bob_Wallace

      It looks like we’re close to being able to roll out tidal on large scale. The early turbines seem to working pretty well.

      But I’m unaware of any proven wave generation? You know of anything past the experimental level?

      I take this article as a very encouraging “Yes We Can” piece of research. We could convert up to 90+% renewable/clean grid using the technology we have in hand and our ‘all-in’ cost for electricity would be about the same.
      Worst case is very acceptable.

      That means, to me, that as time goes on we should be able to supply more of that last 10% with renewables and cut costs.

  • Sean

    Low tech energy storage
    -put an electric heating element into a fossil fuel power station, keep it idling, add fossil fuel when needed.
    Excess energy production would force down prices on the spot market, and turning power plants into a gigantic kettle would sop up excess power capacity like a sponge.
    in times of lower production turn off heating element, throw in coal/gas
    and the load can be micro adjusted instantly.

  • Bob_Wallace

    I’ve been trying to dig a bit deeper on this but, unfortunately the article is behind a pay wall.

    The abstract is available and in it the authors say 90% to 99.9%. The last ‘up to 10%’ provided by fossil fuels. I would imagine that is for the few times a year when wind is very flat for several days in a row.

    And the study is based on technology that we have now. Twenty years of new tech could greatly lower the cost and/or deal with the last 10%. They include hydrogen as one of the storage solutions.

    If Ambri’s liquid metal battery works out then the mix of generation and storage is likely to shift. We should have some very cheap storage.

    Twenty years from now we will be getting almost free electricity from the wind turbines and solar panels we’re using now. Twenty years from now they will be paid off and their operating expenses are very low.

    • JayTee

      So you disagree with the university that it may take 20 years before renewables are price competitive even after adding pollution charges?

      Because they forgot we already have the technology?


      • Bob_Wallace

        Try reading the article again. That is not what it is about.


      I have access to this article and in fact it is talking about only supplying 10% of the grid electrical consumption… 99.9% of the time.

      WHAT A JOKE!

      p.s. send me your email and I will send you a copy of the pdf :]

  • psher grant

    Charge on Adam.

  • Hydrogen storage plus fuel cells can turn intermittent renewable sources into baseload that can be “spun up” to meet demand instantaneously with no moving parts.

    • mw

      Bethel Energy will build the first solar thermal and bio mass hybrid plant in Imperial County next year. 7c kwh costs! run 24/7 NO POLLUTION waste products converted into water and bio diesel fuel.

    • Hans

      You describe a peak load plant, rather than a base load plant. A base load power plant produces electricity at a constant rate and cannot react quickly to changes in demand.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I might be best to drop the term “baseload” from our vocabularies. The old concept of grids being run mainly with “always on” generators such as coal and nuclear is going by the wayside.

      We just aren’t likely going to build much new always on generation. Some geothermal and more if we can figure out the engineering problems of enhanced geothermal. But the world is getting out of the coal business, even China has put a cap on how much they will burn per year. And nuclear seems to have peaked and entered a phase of slow decline.

      Better we talk about “meeting demand”. Variable resources such as wind and solar provide us (will provide) cheap electricity. And, as we now know from the Budischak paper we can use them with storage and a tiny amount of fossil fuel to meet demand when it occurs.

      Storage is the are in which we need the most technological advancement. Budischak, et al. showed us that “worst case” we could do the job with hydrogen and the resulting electricity would be affordable. But I’m betting we’ll develop an even better/cheaper way to store electricity over the next few years.

      • better not use language that points out how ignorant renewable energy is of the operational characteristics of the electrical grid!! That might accidentally cause people or something!! THE HORROR!

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