and us even more so especially in last few weeks


C. researcher was familiar with that problem But he realized that researchers hadn’t explored all the potential solutions For instance meteorological data suggest that wind is always blowing somewhere in the United States MacDonald says So although renewable energy output might be intermittent on a regional scale it would have a more constant flow at a national scale MacDonald wondered whether the US grid might be able to overcome intermittency problems if it added high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) transmission lines—which suffer less energy loss than do traditional alternating-current transmission lines—to connect regional grids so that power could be moved to where it was needed MacDonald Christopher Clack of NOAA and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder and other colleagues wanted to test this idea They built a computer model to analyze different configurations of a weblike network of interregional HVDC lines plus renewable energy installations The model divides the United States into a grid of 152000 squares that are assigned to regional grids In order for the program to evaluate the potential for solar and wind power in each square the researchers inputted data on sunlight and wind speeds between 2006 and 2008 (but the program excluded areas such as national parks and mountain slopes that typically can’t host windmills or solar panels) Then using forecasts for power prices and demand the program could calculate where it would be economical to build wind and solar projects and move renewable power from region to region Finally the researchers told their program to find the lowest-cost way to achieve certain emissions cuts while still meeting future power demand By 2030 with HVDC lines meeting at 32 nodes between regional grids the United States could add enough wind and solar power to cut power sector emissions by up to 80% from 1990 levels the researchers concluded And they calculated that power prices would be lower on average than a business-as-usual scenario And “these results are the minimum of what we could get to” MacDonald tells ScienceInsider explaining that the researchers used very cautious assumptions Stanford University in Palo Alto California energy researcher Jonathan Koomey who wasn’t involved in the work agrees that the NOAA team’s assumptions are generally cautious US power demand may rise less than the team’s projections for instance as a result of new energy-efficiency measures And the team gets its rosy results even though it didn’t add in the health and environmental costs of the pollution created by burning fossil fuels But Koomey also offers major caveat: The study doesn’t consider the potential for electricity demand to rise more than expected should electric vehicles catch on he notes If that happened the United States would need more renewable projects to achieve the same emissions cuts The bigger hurdle to realizing the study’s vision of a national grid however may be persuading policymakers utilities investors and landowners that it’s a good idea says Susan Tierney a former US assistant secretary of energy under President Clinton who’s currently an energy consultant at the Analysis Group in Boston “The problem is not rooted in technology but rather in the way that the US power system is organized legally politically economically and culturally” she says Utilities and politicians are sometimes loath to depend on distant power producers for example and communities often fight the construction of large power lines Koomey notes that the researchers aren’t necessarily advocating a totally storage-free national system or trying to bash storage technology “They’re just saying ‘Let’s just explore a system without storage and see if it’s possible’” The answer he says is that it’s more possible than many people might thinkS.

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