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Date:  June 15, 2009

Contacts:  Rebecca Alvania, Media Relations Officer

Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Renewable Energy Could Contribute to U.S. Electricity Needs,

Yet Challenges Remain

 

WASHINGTON -- Renewable energy resources in the U.S. are sufficient to meet a significant portion of the nation's electricity needs, says a new report from the National Research Council.  Fully taking advantage of these potential low CO2-emitting sources for generating electricity will call for enhanced technologies, increased deployment, financial investments, and implementation of policies to drive increased adoption of renewable electricity.  If the use of renewable electricity is to grow significantly, large increases will be required in the manufacture and installation of these technologies, offering significant employment and economic opportunities.

  

Hydroelectric power is the largest source of renewable electricity in the U.S., generating 7 percent of all U.S. electric power in 2007.  Non-hydroelectric renewable resources -- solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass -- account for only 2.5 percent of U.S. electricity, although they have the potential to contribute far more, the report says.  Nationally, solar and wind resources, in particular, could offer significant amounts of electrical power. 

 

Technological advancements will continue to be needed to reduce costs and make renewable electricity technologies more efficient, the report says, but even with current technologies, renewable resources could contribute more than they do now.  With accelerated deployment, increases in transmission capacity, and other electric-grid improvements, non-hydroelectric renewables could technically contribute up to 10 percent of U.S. electricity by 2020, and 20 percent or more by 2035.  However, major scientific advances, and changes to the way we generate, transmit, and use electricity, will be needed before renewables can contribute the majority of U.S. electricity.  Necessary improvements include the development of intelligent, two-way electric grids; large-scale and distributed electricity storage; and significantly enhanced, yet cost-effective, long-distance electricity transmission. 

 

Renewable-energy use can have numerous environmental and local impacts.  Many of these impacts are positive:  Using renewable energy lessens emissions of CO2, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury; consumes less water; and causes less water contamination compared with fossil fuel electricity.  However, issues of land use and other local impacts (e.g., noise from wind turbines or potential effects on local weather) will become increasingly important as deployment of renewable technologies grows, the report says. 

 

For renewable electricity to make a significant contribution to U.S. electricity generation, it is critical that there is an understanding of the scale of deployment that will be required.  Large increases will be needed over current levels of manufacturing, employment, investment, and installation.  The U.S. Department of Energy recently stated that for wind energy to contribute 20 percent of U.S. electricity it would require 100,000 wind turbines, $100 billion of additional capital investments and transmission upgrades, and employees to fill 140,000 jobs.  The result would be the elimination of more than 800 million metric tons of CO2 emissions from the U.S. electricity sector.  According to the committee that wrote the report, the U.S. could feasibly meet this goal by 2030, but the challenge will be great. 

 

Achieving widespread adoption of renewable energy will also require long-term and consistent policies that encourage the generation of renewable electricity, the report adds.  In most cases, electricity from renewables is more expensive to produce than electricity from fossil fuels.  In the near term, policy incentives, such as the renewable production tax credit, would boost the use of renewable electricity.  Continued research and development into renewable electricity generation could lead to more cost-effective technologies.  Overall, technological developments and consistent policy will need to be coordinated with manufacturing capacity and access to capital in order to accelerate deployment of renewable electricity.

 

This is the second in a series of reports from the National Academies' America's Energy Future project, which was undertaken to stimulate and inform a constructive national dialogue about the nation’s energy future.  Upcoming reports are Realistic Prospects for Energy Efficiency in the United States and an overarching final report titled America's Energy Future: Technology and Transformation.

 

The America's Energy Future project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, BP America, Dow Chemical Company Foundation, Fred Kavli and the Kavli Foundation, GE Energy, General Motors Corp., Intel Corp., and the W.M. Keck Foundation.  Support was also provided by the National Academies through the following endowed funds created to perpetually support the work of the National Research Council:  Thomas Lincoln Casey Fund, Arthur L. Day Fund, W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fund, George and Cynthia Mitchell Endowment for Sustainability Science, and Frank Press Fund for Dissemination and Outreach.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  A panel roster follows.

Copies of Electricity From Renewables: Status, Prospects, and Impediments are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above). 

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[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]



NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL

Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

Committee on America's Energy Future

 

Panel on Electricity from Renewables

Lawrence T. Papay 1 (chair)
Chief Executive Officer and Principal
PQR, LLC
La Jolla, Calif.

 

Allen J. Bard 2 (vice chair)
Hackerman Welch Regents' Chair in Chemistry
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
University of Texas
Austin

Rakesh Agrawal 1
Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor
School of Chemical Engineering
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Ind.

William L. Chameides 2
Dean
Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
Duke University
Durham, N.C.

Jane H. Davidson
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis

J. Michael Davis
Associate Laboratory Director
Energy Science and Technology Directorate
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Richland, Wash.

Kelly Fletcher
Advanced Technology Leader
Sustainable Energy Programs
GE Global Research
Niskayuna, N.Y.

 

Charles F. Gay
Corporate Vice President and General Manager
Solar Business Group
Applied Materials Inc.
Santa Clara, Calif.

 

Charles H. Goodman
Senior Vice President for Generation Policy
Southern Company Services Inc.
Birmingham, Ala.

Sossina M. Haile
Professor of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena 

Nathan S. Lewis
Professor of Chemistry
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena

Karen L. Palmer
Senior Fellow
Quality of the Environment Division
Resources for the Future
Washington, D.C.

Jeffrey M. Peterson
Program Manager
Energy Resources Group
New York State Energy Research and Development
Albany

Karl Rabágo
Vice President

Distributed Energy Services

Austin Energy
Austin, Texas

 

Carl J. Weinberg

Principal

Weinberg Associates

Walnut Creek, Calif.

Kurt E. Yeager

President Emeritus

Electric Power Research Institute Inc.

Palo Alto, Calif.

 

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

 

John Holmes

Study Director

 

                                                                        

1        Member, National Academy of Engineering

2        Member, National Academy of Sciences