The DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory has just completed a two-and-a-half year study of the technical, operational and economic requirements for integrating 20% to 30% wind power into the electrical grid that serves nearly three-quarters of the U.S. population.
Bottom line: it's certainly doable by 2024 with "significant expansion of the transmission infrastructure," and it will be a "highly cost effective way to reduce carbon emissions."
"Twenty percent wind is an ambitious goal, but this study shows that there are multiple scenarios though which it can be achieved," said David Corbus, who oversaw the study for NREL that looked at various combinations of onshore and offshore wind development to serve an area extending from the western border of the Great Plains to the eastern seaboard. But he said "we need to start planning" immediately for the complex upgrades to the eastern U.S. electrical transmission system, including some 22,000 miles of new high-tech lines and tens of billions of dollars in capital investments.
The NREL study is a critical milestone in achieving a core climate solution that will help stabilize CO2 emissions below 450 ppm. As American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode said: "This ground-breaking study demonstrates the major role wind energy can provide across the Eastern US, reducing and stabilizing electricity rates while protecting the environment. It also shows the urgency of transmission reform for both onshore and offshore wind development, because if we wait any longer we will not have the lines soon enough to tap these cost-effective domestic renewable resources."
Because more than 70 percent of the U.S. population lives in the area serviced by the Eastern Interconnection that is the subject of the NREL study, said Corbus, bringing significant amounts of wind power to the eastern grid "goes a long way towards clean power for the whole country."