Would high levels of renewable energy sources be able to maintain the U.S. electrical grid? Meeting Load with Resource Mix Beyond Business as Usual, a report released in April 2013 by Synapse Energy, answered this question using a model to see how a renewable energy intensive grid would be able to handle future energy load. The study determined that using “a combination of inter-regional transfers, local storage, and demand response would be more than adequate to provide a high level of reliability” for almost all hours of the entire year in ten studied regions.
This report built on the research performed by Synapse in 2011, Toward a Sustainable Future for the U.S. Power Sector: Beyond Business as Usual 2011 (BBAU 2011), “that introduced a ‘Transition Scenario’ in which the United States retires all of its coal plants and a quarter of its nuclear plants by 2050, moving instead toward a power system based on energy efficiency and renewable energy. Synapse’s study showed that this transition scenario, in addition to achieving significant reductions in emissions of CO2 and other pollutants, ultimately costs society less than a “business as usual” strategy—even without considering the cost of carbon. BBAU 2011 projected that, over 40 years, the Transition Scenario would result in savings of $83 billion (present value) compared to the business as usual strategy.”
Most of the data used to create the model came from FERC, NERC, the U.S. EPA, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), GE Energy, and data gathered from BBAU 2011. The model was created to match the mixed energy sources to the energy load at the current hour, instead of having periods of time where energy output was either in surplus or insufficient for demand.
The data was used to determine if electric demands for the years 2030 and 2050 could be met in ten regions in the United States, including the northeast, eastern midwest, western midwest, Rocky Mountains, Texas, California, Arizona/New Mexico, southeast, south central and northwest. Only the northwestern region in the year 2050 showed signs of struggle to meet the energy load. The remaining nine regions showed little or no shortage of energy using Synapse’s model. The figure above models a week in the summer in the Rocky Mountains, where no energy shortage occurred. To see the figures from other regions, view the report.