- Study sees wind and solar contributing more than 80% energy demand for most countries without storage
- With storage the contribution would go up, but more needs to be done to achieve a sustainable power supply for the world
- Establishing power generation capacity that exceeds annual demand, and also pooling resources of multiple nations in a continent can help
A new study led by University of California, Irvine researchers claims wind and solar energy can meet more than 80% of energy demand at many places, ‘without crazy amounts of storage or excess generating capacity’. Yet more needs to be done to ‘completely satisfy’ the electricity requirements.
Their assessment is a result of analyzing 39 years’ worth of hourly energy demand data from 42 major countries.
The team comprising experts from China’s Tsinghua University, the Carnegie Institution for Science and Caltech, believe that advanced, industrialized nations can meet most of their current electricity demand by some combination of wind and solar energy.
According to the researchers, larger lower-latitude nations may find it easier to switch to a completely sustainable energy system with solar power availability throughout the year. But those that are farther from the equator cannot depend on wind and solar alone and share Germany’s example to prove the point. “One recent occurrence of this phenomenon in Germany lasted for two weeks, forcing Germans to resort to dispatchable generation, which in many cases is provided by fossil fuel-burning plants,” shared Assistant Professor of Earth System Science at Tsinghua University, Dan Tong.
To deal with this possibility in the future, the researchers recommend building power generation capacity that exceeds annual demand, developing long-term storage capabilities and pooling resources of multiple nations on a continental land mass, something that the Green Grids Initiative—One Sun One World One Grid (GGI-OSOWOG) launched at COP26 has been envisioned to achieve (see Global Interconnected Solar Power Grids).
For instance, the US can have wind and solar energy system accounting for close to 85% of the country’s total electricity demand and increase it through capacity building, addition of storage and connecting with other national partners in North America.
Europe too can hope to increase reliability of its power system with solar resources from Spain, Italy and Greece and wind resources from the Netherlands, Denmark and the Baltic region, authors suggest.
Pointing towards ‘some definite geophysical constraints’ to produce net-zero carbon electricity, Co-Author of the study and UCI Professor of Earth System Science, Steven Davis admitted, “It comes down to the difference between the difficult and the impossible. It will be hard to completely eliminate fossil fuels from our power generation mix, but we can achieve that goal when technologies, economics and socio-political will are aligned.”
The study with the title Geophysical constraints on the reliability of solar and wind power worldwide has been published in scientific journal Nature Communications.