Researchers Show a 100% Renewable US Grid with No Blackouts Is Possible

And it would create 4.7 million long-term jobs.
Derya Ozdemir

The United States' energy system that's running completely on wind, water, and solar, combined with storage, would not only avoid blackouts but also lower energy requirements and consumer costs, a Stanford University study has shown. In addition, this would create millions of jobs, improve health, and free up land for various other purposes.

This is incredibly important because, for some people, a future powered by renewable energy isn't feasible due to concerns about blackouts driven by inconsistent electricity sources. Take, for example, the grid blackouts caused by extreme weather events in California in August 2020 and Texas in February 2021.

However, the study, which examined grid stability under various scenarios in which wind, water, and solar energy supplied 100 percent of all energy needs in the U.S., has now demonstrated that those concerns are misplaced.

Running simulations for six states 

The study, published in the journal Renewable Energy, analyzed grid stability across all 50 U.S. states and districts for 2050-51, following a sector-wide transition to 100 percent renewable electricity and heat, the deployment of battery storage, and demand response. As a result, it found that no blackouts occurred, even during summer in California or winter in Texas. And the best part is that no batteries with more than four hours of storage were required.

Stanford researchers looked at how we can meet continuous energy demand every 30 seconds for two years and ran simulations for six individual states: Alaska and Hawaii, both of which are geographically isolated, as well as California, Texas, New York, and Florida.

In their scenario, there was a massive expansion of offshore wind turbines and rooftop solar panels, onshore wind turbines, utility solar panels, and concentrated solar power plants. The researchers discovered that new energy generators would take up 0.84 percent of U.S. land, compared to the 1.3 percent currently held by the fossil fuel industry. 

Crucial findings

Moreover, the researchers found that per capita household yearly energy expenses were roughly 63 percent lower than in a business as usual scenario. Costs fell by as much as 79 percent in some jurisdictions.

Another important finding of the study was that long-duration batteries were neither required nor beneficial in maintaining grid stability. Instead, the researchers saw that grid stability could be achieved by connecting currently available batteries with a storage period of four hours or less.

The study also found that constructing and running a completely clean, renewable grid may provide over 4.7 million long-term, full-time jobs. And the benefits for the humans don't end there as cleaner air would spare roughly 53,200 people each year from pollution-related fatalities and millions more from pollution-related illnesses in 2050.

“There is so much to be gained if we can gather the willpower to undertake the transition at a pace fitting the urgency of reaching a zero-carbon system,” said study coauthor Anna-Katharina von Krauland, a Ph.D. student in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. “I suspect that these ideas, which might sound radical now, will soon become obvious in hindsight.”

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