“Until recently, it was unclear whether variable renewable energy, nuclear, or fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage would become the main form of generation in a decarbonized electricity system,” argues a recently-published analysis titled Carbon-Neutral Pathways for the United States.
“The cost decline of variable renewable energy over the last few years, however, has definitively changed the situation.”
Ars Technica reports:
In many areas of the United States, installing a wind or solar farm is now cheaper than simply buying fuel for an existing fossil fuel-based generator. And that’s dramatically changing the electricity market in the U.S. and requiring a lot of people to update prior predictions. That has motivated a group of researchers to take a new look at the costs and challenges of getting the entire U.S. to carbon neutrality.
By building a model of the energy market for the entire U.S., the researchers explored what it will take to get the country to the point where its energy use has no net emissions in 2050 — and they even looked at a scenario where emissions are negative. They found that, as you’d expect, the costs drop dramatically — to less than 1 percent of the GDP, even before counting the costs avoided by preventing the worst impacts of climate change. And, as an added bonus, we would pay less for our power…
The researchers estimate that the net cost of the transformation will be a total of $145 billion by 2050, which works out to be less than one-half percent of the GDP that year. That figure does include the increased savings from electrical heating and vehicles, which offset some of their costs. But it doesn’t include the reduced costs from climate change or lower health care spending due to reduced fossil fuel use. These savings will be substantial, and they will almost certainly go well beyond offsetting the cost. Due to the reduced cost of renewable generation, the authors project that we’ll spend less for electricity overall, as well… Part of the reason it is so cheap is because reaching the goal doesn’t require replacing viable hardware. All of the things that need to be taken out of service, from coal-fired generators to gas hot-water heaters, have finite lifetimes. The researchers calculate that simply replacing everything with renewables or high-efficiency electric versions will manage the transition in sufficient time…
The scenarios with additional constraints produce some odd results as well. The only scenario in which nuclear power makes economic sense is the one in which land use is limited.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.