Ramping Up Renewables: Energy You Can Count On (2013)
Renewable energy is providing clean, reliable electricity across the United States and around the world. It is also growing rapidly, with record numbers of new wind and solar installations coming online in the U.S. over the past few years.
We can readily continue this rapid expansion of renewable energy — and accelerate the transition away from dirty, coal-fired power plants — by utilizing existing technologies, investing in improvements to our electricity system, and making smart policy decisions that move the country toward a clean energy future.
Renewable energy is growing rapidly and is already a significant source of electricity in many states and countries.
- The amount of electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar power increased nearly four-fold in the United States from 2007 to 2012.
- Nine states currently generate 10 percent or more of their electricity from wind and solar power, including Iowa (24%), Minnesota (14%), Colorado (12%), and Oregon (10%).
- Nationwide, the U.S. generates only 3.6 percent of its electricity from wind and solar power, much less than many other countries, including Denmark (30%), Spain (19%), and Germany (15%).
We have the tools to significantly ramp up renewable energy. Today's electricity system can accommodate much more wind and solar power.
Wind and solar power are inherently variable sources of electricity. After all, the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. To accommodate this variability, electricity grid operators use a variety of tools to maintain a reliable electricity supply—and can easily handle a much higher percentage of electricity from renewable sources. These tools include:
- Multiple wind power sources: The wind doesn't always blow everywhere, but it's usually blowing somewhere. Drawing electricity from a broad geographic area helps ensure a steady supply of wind power.
- Accurate forecasts: Detailed weather reports allow grid operators to accurately forecast wind and solar power output, and to adjust other electricity sources as needed.
- Other power sources: When wind and solar power diminishes, grid operators use reserve power sources, such as hydroelectric power and quick-starting natural gas plants, to fill the gap.
- A dynamic grid: Electricity grids are designed to handle variability in both supply and demand because no energy source is perfectly reliable. Even coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants are susceptible to interruption for maintenance, and from severe weather, equipment failure, and other unexpected events.
Take Action: Help start a real conversation on renewable energyTogether we can ramp up renewable energy, but we need a strong and informed chorus of voices to stop the fossil fuel industry from blocking progress. Take action now!
If we make smart decisions today, renewable energy could reliably provide 80 percent of U.S. electricity by 2050.
Renewable energy technologies available today—wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and hydropower—could collectively supply the vast majority of U.S. electricity in 2050, while meeting electricity demand every hour of the year in every region of the country.
To accomplish it will require adding a high level of variable energy sources, with wind and solar alone generating 50 percent of U.S. electricity. Reliably integrating these resources may increase the complexity of the challenge, but does not pose insurmountable technical problems or significant costs. To get there, we need to make smart investments and policy decisions today that move the country toward a cleaner energy future.
- Build new transmission lines to connect remote areas with strong wind and solar potential to areas of high electricity demand, and to link regional electricity grids together to more efficiently integrate wind and solar power and lower costs.
- Improve technologies to store renewable energy for use when electricity demand is high, such as advanced batteries, pumped hydro, and thermal storage.
- Create a smarter grid that avoids costly spikes in electricity demand; increases the efficiency of our homes, businesses, and appliances; and makes the electricity grid more efficient by using technologies that quickly adapt to changing conditions in supply and demand.
- Establish forward-thinking policies that set strong state and national standards to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy supplies, and lower market barriers to aid the rapid deployment of renewable energy technologies.