New study says 20% wind is feasible and will reduce carbon

 A long-awaited, detailed study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on integrating large amounts of wind energy into the Eastern region of the United States was released today, and the conclusions are very encouraging.

“Twenty percent wind is an ambitious goal, but this study shows that there are multiple scenarios through which it can be achieved,” said David Corbus, NREL project manager for the study. “Whether we’re talking about using land-based wind in the Midwest, offshore wind in the East or any combination of wind power resources, any plausible scenario requires transmission infrastructure upgrades and we need to start planning for that immediately.” More details of the report can be found at the NREL link above. Suffice it to say that all the arguments about why wind is too unreliable are demolished by NREL's painstaking report.

So far, so good. However, since the NREL press conference this morning, we have noticed that the significance of the amount of carbon reductions that would occur under 20% and 30% wind (the two NREL scenarios) is not making it into reporters' stories in one piece. AWEA's transmission and integration expert, Michael Goggin, provides the following insight:

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Much of the coverage of the EWITS report is making the inaccurate claim that wind will not significantly reduce carbon emissions. This confusion stems from a chart in the EWITS executive summary showing a 5% decrease in carbon emissions going from 2008 electric sector emissions to 2024 electric sector emissions with 20% wind (and an 18.8% reduction for the 30% case). Of course, the reason for the seemingly small emissions decrease is that overall electricity demand is expected to increase by 28.5% between 2008 and 2024 (according to EWITS data), so even a 5% decrease in emissions is a remarkably large reduction.

The correct comparison is that emissions would have been 28.5% higher in 2024 if today’s generation mix (about 2% wind) were used to meet growing electric demand, but achieving 20% wind can turn that massive 28.5% emissions increase into a 5% emissions reduction (i.e. a decrease in carbon emissions equivalent to 33.5% of today’s emissions; in the 30% case, the decrease would be 47.3%).


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