Nearly two thirds of US states could be self-sufficient in electricity production if they exploited all the renewable energy available to them, says a new report.
The study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, an environmental lobby group dedicated to creating sustainable communities, examines the potential of seven different forms of renewable energy state by state.
It looked at the possible contribution of roof-top solar, geothermal, combined heat and power, enhanced geo thermal, small scale hydro, off and onshore wind, in each state.
It found that all 36 states with either renewable energy goals or renewable energy mandates could meet them by relying on in-state renewable fuels. A further ten could generate at least half of their electricity from domestic renewables and every state in the Union could meet at least a quarter of their electricity needs in-state.
The report calls for a decentralized approach to electricity generation and for state and local control over renewable energy assets. It suggests building small-scale, distributed energy facilities and upgrading the transmission and distribution systems within each state.
It says that the centralised grid system is inefficient and potentially insecure. Although ‘big energy’ schemes can apparently produce electricity more cheaply, once power has been distributed over long distances, costs rise sharply. If you take into account the local economic benefits of decentralised power systems, the argument is decisive, says the report.
“If Ohio’s electricity came from North Dakota wind farms – 1,000 miles away – the cost of constructing new transmission lines to carry that power and the electricity losses during transmission,” says the study.
The report seems to favour solar as the most likely route to state energy autonomy. “More than 40 states plus the District of Columbia could generate 25 percent of their electricity just with rooftop PV,” argues John Farrell one of the report’s authors.
However the ILSR study also reveals huge variation in the potential amount of different forms of renewable energy available and costs of production.
The Southern states from Kentucky to Louisiana appear to have the least potential for renewable energy self-reliance. But even these states could meet 25 percent or more of their electricity needs instate.
Onshore Wind Power
ILSR’s analysis reveals an impressive potential for electricity from wind alone. But mainly in western and northern plains states, very little in the east. As many as 19 states could match their entire electricity sales with onshore wind power; 28 could meet at least half (if sufficient storage were provided).
Offshore Wind Power
There’s clear potential for offshore wind development along the Eastern Seaboard and the Great Lakes, but virtually none elsewhere. The report says offshore wind energy, will also be considerably more expensive than onshore wind energy.
Two states, California and Nevada, could generate at least half their annual electricity solely with rooftop solar (simply by relying on rooftop solar PV panels, many states could satisfy a substantial portion of their electricity needs. sufficient electricity storage). Many states could generate around a quarter of their electricity from rooftop solar power.
As you would expect, the southern half of the US can generate more solar electricity, on average, than the north. But Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan can generate as much as Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.
Small Hydro Power
Most states have few opportunities to tap additional small hydropower, so it offers probably the least potential of the renewables examined. However Alaska, and states in the Northwest and Northeast have substantial potential.
Combined Heat and Power
Combined-heat-and-power systems harness waste heat to generate electricity. They can convert 60 percent or more of the renewable or fossil fuel into usable energy, electricity and heat. Potential is fairly uniform across the country but at a low level, varying from just three to eight per cent of state needs. However the study points out that commercial building and industrial CHP projects usually have the shortest payback of all renewable energy technology investments.
Round-the-clock energy for electricity and building heat. Sources. are concentrated in the western third of the country and Conventional geothermal uses steam heat close to the Earth’s surface to generate electricity. Geothermal can provide can generate significant quantities of electricity. Nine states could produce at least 10 percent of their domestic electricity consumption from conventional geothermal. Nevada could satisfy 40 percent of its electricity needs.
However the entire country is suitable for installing geothermal heat pumps, says the report.
Enhanced geothermal accesses hot rocks at a depth of 3-10 kilometers and injects water to produce steam. It’s an immature energy technology and is not yet commercially viable, but the report identifies huge potential. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers believe at least 100 GW of enhanced geothermal could be built by 2050.
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