A nationwide switch to mostly renewable energy sources could be feasible at a low cost of 10 cents per kWh within 15 years. The modeled system, based on the forecast that renewable costs will continue to drop and natural gas prices will rise, will also cut CO2 emissions by 78% over 1990 levels.
The research, conducted by NOAA and the University of Colorado Boulder, found that if renewables end up costing more than is projected, the improved grid mix could still cut 33% of CO2 emissions while providing electricity at about 8.6 cents per kWh. These efficiencies can be achieved by implementing a new high-voltage direct-current transmission grid (HVDC). Efficient, long-distance transmission of power is vital to keeping energy costs down.
“An HVDC grid would create a national electricity market in which all types of generation, including low-carbon sources, compete on a cost basis. The surprise was how dominant wind and solar could be,” says Alexander Macdonald, co-lead author of the study and retired director of the NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory.