Clean Power

Published on January 26th, 2016 | by Joshua S Hill


US Could Cut Electricity Production Emissions By 78% In 15 Years, Says NOAA

January 26th, 2016 by  

A new report has concluded that the United States could cut greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production by 78% within 15 years.

According to a new study conducted by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States could cut electricity-produced greenhouse gas emissions by 78% below 1990 levels within 15 years, while still meeting increased electricity demand across the country.

The new study, published online in the journal Nature Climate Change, is based on a sophisticated mathematical model that evaluated future cost, demand, generation, and transmission scenarios. Specifically, the model found that improvements in transmission infrastructure would allow weather-driven renewable energy resources such as wind and solar to supply most of the United States’ electricity demand at costs similar to today’s.


A high-resolution map based on NOAA weather data shows a snapshot of wind energy potential across the United States in 2012. (Credit: Image by Chris Clack/CIRES)

“Our research shows a transition to a reliable, low-carbon, electrical generation, and transmission system can be accomplished with commercially available technology and within 15 years,” said Alexander MacDonald, co-lead author of the study and recently retired director of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder.

According to MacDonald, the solution is to build up the country’s solar and wind capacity, in conjunction with a more robust transmission system, so that there is enough electricity being produced somewhere in the country to make up for those locations which might be encountering lower wind speeds or sunshine levels.


A high-resolution map based on NOAA solar irradiance data shows a snapshot of solar energy potential across the United States. (Credit: Image by Chris Clack/CIRES)

The model that the team worked from used high level meteorological data from NOAA, and “estimates renewable resource potential, energy demand, emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the costs of expanding and operating electricity generation and transmission systems to meet future needs.”

“The model relentlessly seeks the lowest-cost energy, whatever constraints are applied,” said co-lead author Christopher Clack, a physicist and mathematician with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. “And it always installs more renewable energy on the grid than exists today.”

In fact, even if renewable energy costs exceeded those that experts are currently predicting, the worst the model managed to create was a CO2 emissions drop of 33% below 1990 levels by 2030, delivered at 8.6 cents per kilowatt hour — compared to 9.4 cents per kWh in 2012.

The paper can be accessed at Nature Climate Change here, and a more in-depth look at the study from NOAA’s researchers here.

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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

  • heinbloed
  • Bob_Wallace

    This is damned important. This needs massive publicity.

    We can clean the grid. Rapidly. And save ourselves money.

  • peter joseph

    Looks promising, but how is all that industrialization of our landscape with thousands of wind turbines, acres of solar fields, transmission towers and lines going to be accepted by NIMBY’s? Who’s going to build it and where will the money come from? I’m all for it, but let’s be sure to stay realistic.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Realistically not many people live in the windiest places and lots of them are very happy with the money wind brings to their communities. Solar farms are a lot less ugly than open pit mines and immense piles of coal ash. Will it be smooth sailing? Nope, change is never easy and without opposition.

      Who’t going to build it? Who’s going to build the replacements for our coal plants which are old, aging out and have to be replaced? We’re going to spend the money anyway. Plus the ~$200 billion we save not having to treat coal health costs will help out, a couple trillion dollars over 10 years.

    • neroden

      NIMBYs will fight it but it just isn’t actually that much acreage, and a lot of it is very low-population.

    • Hans

      1910: Cars look promising, but how is all that industrialization of our landscape
      with thousands of miles of highway, thousands of acres of parking space, gas stations, refineries and oil wells going to be accepted by NIMBY’s? Who’s going to build
      it and where will the money come from? I’m all for it, but let’s be sure
      to stay realistic.

    • Dan

      We need to end fossil fuel subsides and increase incentives for renewables and grid upgrades. Distributed solar should be key since homeowners can shoulder the upfront loans and still save money. It would stimulate the industry into scaling up faster and every other tangential smartgrid tech and energy storage along with it. Simply elliminating the corruption that already augments the cost of going solar is enough to make that a reality. Nevada is important in the US because it is so solar rich. I’m continuing to call NV Energy and am looking to build awareness and momentum. I think the best strategy is to present this as an opportunity to traditional businesses and utilities. Times are changing and if they don’t change, they will loose. Adopting new technology is their only hope. Costs for solar will only keep dropping and their corrupt pricing mechanisms will fail big time long term. All of a sudden solar will be soooooo much cheaper bc the real cost will suddenly be reflected. We could speed up solar adoption by years by getting Nevada to shift their stance on this

    • Dylan Wentworth

      Considering the nimbys, typically farmers, get paid for the use of their land for turbines, I’d say they rather like it. But im just speculating.

      • Otis11

        I can confirm. My extended is full of iowa farmers – they love the revenue from wind turbines. Especially those “big fancy new ones!” (For whatever reason they get more money per acre used with them)

        For reference, their area in iowa is among the most profitable farmland in the country (outside the California valley) and they make more money on wind farms than the corn they grow even when it’s $8/bushel!

        (It also increases the resale value of their land… Which is unfortunate when you’re looking to expand.)

  • JamesWimberley

    What on earth is “energy production”? The details make it clear that this scenario is about ELECTRICITY not ENERGY. Caps are shouting and bad manners but I am getting seriously fed up with posters who fail to make this utterly basic distinction.

    • neroden

      I calculated it and all transportation fuel use can be replaced by increasing the electrical usage by about 10%, which is really pretty marginal.

      I haven’t calculated for heating fuel use, which is harder.

  • Ross

    A big national HVDC grid might not be necessary at all.

    • joshua

      It would mean less excess capacity, but with cheaper and cheaper wind and solar, it could be cheaper to built extra capacity instead of transmission.

      • neroden

        The snowbelt, with bad snowstorms which can knock out solar for days, would appreciate more transmission from the rest of the country. 🙂

  • sjc_1

    Sequester the carbon to make fuels. Use the carbon twice to cut emissions in half.

    • joshua

      I dutifully await the day I can buy this product.

      • heinbloed

        $ 10,000.- and it is yours.

        Click onto the video at the end of the German article, it’s in English.

        • joshua

          That… isn’t… relevant…

          you just showed me a plastics-to-fuel machine that doesn’t actually exist yet.

          Again, tell when it’s real.

          Not to mention, that isn’t relevant to the discussion. You just took a petroleum product (plastic) that wasn’t going to be burned, and converted it back into oil, which will be.

          • heinbloed

            Plastic going to land fill is a carbon capture mechanism, it takes hundreds of years to rot and the contained carbon to be released (at least partly) into the atmosphere.

            This CCS you wanted to use to make fuel for a second time.
            Here you go, the machine shown in the video exists and you can purchase it for € 10,000.-, contact the manufacturer.

            There are larger ones in commercial operation,cross subsidized by waste handlers who send their sorted but non-recyclable waste to these plants:


            Of course it is absurd to think that CCS would be a level player in the climate protection and RE game.

            All plastics in Europe sooner or later end up in the fire, be it in power plants, in lime and cement and brick kilns or plain waste combustion without energy recovery.
            We have a common waste law in Europe which forbids untreated waste to go to landfill.
            Some countries still lag behind but the outcome is clear: combustion.

    • heinbloed

      If all carbon emissions were covered by your suggestion then we would run down the biosphere in twice the time predicted now.

  • vensonata

    Another nail in the coffin of fossil fuels.

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