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Geophysical constraints on the reliability of solar and wind power in the United States

Shaner, Matthew R. and Davis, Steven J. and Lewis, Nathan S. and Caldeira, Ken (2018) Geophysical constraints on the reliability of solar and wind power in the United States. Energy and Environmental Science, 11 (4). pp. 914-925. ISSN 1754-5692. doi:10.1039/c7ee03029k.

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We analyze 36 years of global, hourly weather data (1980–2015) to quantify the covariability of solar and wind resources as a function of time and location, over multi-decadal time scales and up to continental length scales. Assuming minimal excess generation, lossless transmission, and no other generation sources, the analysis indicates that wind-heavy or solar-heavy U.S.-scale power generation portfolios could in principle provide ∼80% of recent total annual U.S. electricity demand. However, to reliably meet 100% of total annual electricity demand, seasonal cycles and unpredictable weather events require several weeks’ worth of energy storage and/or the installation of much more capacity of solar and wind power than is routinely necessary to meet peak demand. To obtain ∼80% reliability, solar-heavy wind/solar generation mixes require sufficient energy storage to overcome the daily solar cycle, whereas wind-heavy wind/solar generation mixes require continental-scale transmission to exploit the geographic diversity of wind. Policy and planning aimed at providing a reliable electricity supply must therefore rigorously consider constraints associated with the geophysical variability of the solar and wind resource—even over continental scales.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription Information
Shaner, Matthew R.0000-0003-4682-9757
Davis, Steven J.0000-0002-9338-0844
Lewis, Nathan S.0000-0001-5245-0538
Additional Information:© 2018 The Royal Society of Chemistry. The article was received on 21 Oct 2017, accepted on 14 Feb 2018 and first published on 27 Feb 2018. Funding was provided by Near Zero and the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (FICER). N. S. L. acknowledges the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for funding. SJD was partially supported by NSF INFEWS Grant EAR 1639318. We thank Grayson Badgley and Seth Nickell for help with data processing and analysis. We also thank Michael Mastrandrea, Karen Fries, Daniel Sanchez, Danny Cullenward and Mason Inman for helpful discussions throughout the analysis and writing processes. There are no conflicts to declare.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (FICER)UNSPECIFIED
Gordon and Betty Moore FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:4
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180509-093355674
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:86307
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:09 May 2018 16:48
Last Modified:01 Jun 2023 22:57

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