Transitioning towards a 100% renewable energy electricity system — including 50% worth of solar PV — is the cheapest option for South America, and would be possible within the next 15 years, according to new research published this week.
According to research published by the Lappeenranta University of Technology along with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, a transition to an electrical system based solely on renewable energy is well within the realm of possibility for South America, and could be accomplished by 2030. The research shows that such a regional electricity system is the best option, from an economic point of view, and could also be achieved without the need for high levels of energy storage capacity.
The study is part of a series of investigations under the Neo-Carbon Energy research banner being carried out by the two institutions for regions across the planet. We have already covered work which showed solar and wind would prove to be the cheapest forms of energy production for Asia’s largest energy markets by the end of 2025; a 100% renewable energy system for Finland; a 100% renewable energy system for Russia and Central Asia; and the big one, a first-ever model depicting a 100% global renewable energy system covering the entire planet, structured into 145 separate regions as part of 9 major world regions.
“With the simulation, anyone can explore what a renewable electricity system would look like,” said Christian Breyer, LUT Solar Economy Professor and a leading scientist behind the model. “This is the first time scientists have been able to do this on a global scale.”
The new study focusing on South America would see the cost of electricity under such a system vary between $50 and $66 per MWh, depending on the particular model that was used. The authors divided South America “into 15 sub-regions and three different grid development levels were considered in three different scenarios,” while the “integration of reverse osmosis water desalination and industrial natural gas electricity demand was studied in a fourth scenario.”
“South America has a unique renewable energy resource base since one of the best wind sites globally is Patagonia, the best solar energy sites are in the Atacama Desert, hydro power is already used in large amounts and the sustainable biomass potential is significant,” commented professor Christian Breyer, from LUT (quote from PV-Magazine‘s translation). “For these reasons, South America is one of the most favorable regions globally to shift to a 100% renewable energy system.”
The four separate scenarios discussed in the paper were:
- regional energy systems, in which all the regions are independent (no HVDC grid interconnections) and the electricity demand has to be covered by the respective region’s own generation
- country-wide energy system, in which the regional energy systems are interconnected by HVDC grids within the borders of nations
- area-wide energy system, in which the country-based energy systems are interconnected
- integrated scenario: area-wide energy system scenario with SWRO desalination and industrial gas demand. In this scenario, RE sources combined with PtG technology are used not only as electricity generation and storage options within the system, but also as energy sector bridging technologies to cover water desalination and industrial gas demand, increasing the flexibility of the system.
Solar PV totals for the four regions are, respectively, 478.2 GW, 457.2 GW, 415.5 GW, and 826.2 GW, meanwhile wind energy would total 83.4 GW, 68.7 GW, 68.6 GW, and 134.4 GW respectively. The total battery storage outlined in the report’s four scenarios are 661.8 GWH, 654.1 GWh, 538.1 GWh, and 607.2 GWh.
“A fully integrated renewable energy system has to be simulated and deeply studied in order to better understand the findings for the South and Central America region,” the authors concluded. “However, this research work indicates that a 100% renewable resources-based energy system is a real low cost option for a recent future.”