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Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar

  1. Jay F. Whitacred
  1. aEarth System Research Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, CO 80305;
  2. bCooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80305;
  3. cDepartment of Physics and Astronomy, Uppsala University, 752 37 Uppsala, Sweden;
  4. dDepartment of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213;
  5. eTepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213;
  6. fCenter for Global Energy Policy, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027;
  7. gDepartment of Energy Resources Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305;
  8. hDepartment of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, CA 94305;
  9. iDepartment of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697;
  10. jOmni Optimum, Evergreen, CO 80437;
  11. kEnduring Energy, LLC, Boulder, CO 80303;
  12. lElectrical Engineering and Complex Systems Center, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405;
  13. mEnergy and Resources Group, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720;
  14. nGoldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720;
  15. oRenewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3050;
  16. pLawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, CA 94550;
  17. qRenewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80305;
  18. rCouncil on Foreign Relations, New York, NY 10065;
  19. sPrecourt Energy Efficiency Center, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-4206;
  20. tManagement Science and Engineering Department, Huang Engineering Center, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305;
  21. uDepartment of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Jacobs School of Engineering, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093;
  22. vSchool of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093;
  23. wBrookings Institution, Washington, DC 20036
  1. Edited by B. L. Turner, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, and approved February 24, 2017 (received for review June 26, 2016)

  1. Fig. 2.

    Installed capacity values for 2015 (left column in each pair) and those used in the studies in refs. 11 and 12 (right column in each pair). These 100% wind, solar, and hydroelectric studies propose installing technologies at a scale equivalent to (or substantially greater than) the entire capacity of the existing electricity generation infrastructure. The other category includes coal, natural gas, and nuclear, all of which are removed by 2050.

  2. Fig. 3.

    Historical and proposed hydroelectric generation per year. The historical data (www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=2650) show generation averaging 280.9 TWh/yr; generation proposed in ref. 11 is 402.2 TWh, 13% higher than the 25-y historical maximum of 356.5 TWh (1997) and 85% higher than the historical minimum of 217 TWh (2001).

  3. Fig. 4.

    The historical rates of installed electric-generating capacity per capita (watts per year per capita) for China (blue), Germany (gray), and the United States (black) are shown with the estimated values for the US proposals from the works by Jacobson et al. (11, 12) (red) and MacDonald et al. (1) (green). It shows that the 100% wind, solar, and hydropower power plan requires installation of new capacity at a rate more than an order of magnitude greater than that previously recorded in China, Germany, or the United States. The rate would have to be continued indefinitely because of replacing generation as it aged.

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