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Issue 4, 2018
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Geophysical constraints on the reliability of solar and wind power in the United States

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Abstract

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.

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

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Submitted
21 Oct 2017
Accepted
14 Feb 2018
First published
27 Feb 2018

Energy Environ. Sci., 2018,11, 914-925
Article type
Paper

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

M. R. Shaner, S. J. Davis, N. S. Lewis and K. Caldeira, Energy Environ. Sci., 2018, 11, 914
DOI: 10.1039/C7EE03029K

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