The ongoing debate around whether it’s feasible to have an electric grid running on 100 percent renewable power in the coming decades often misses a key point: many countries and regions are already at or close to 100 percent now.
According to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are seven countries already at, or very, near 100 percent renewable power: Iceland (100 percent), Paraguay (100), Costa Rica (99), Norway (98.5), Austria (80), Brazil (75), and Denmark (69.4). The main renewables in these countries are hydropower, wind, geothermal, and solar.
A new international study, which debunks many myths about renewable energy, notes that many large population regions are “at or above 100%” including Germany’s Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Holstein regions, New Zealand’s South Island, and Denmark’s Samsø island. In Canada, both Quebec and British Columbia are at nearly 100 percent renewable power.
Last summer, China’s State-run Xinhua News Agency reported that “Qinghai Province has just run for seven straight days entirely on renewable energy … only wind, solar and hydro.” This was part of a test by the country’s State Grid Corporation to show a post-fossil-fuel future was practical.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) has projected that by 2040, Germany’s grid will see nearly 75 percent renewable penetration, Mexico will be over 80 percent, and Brazil and Italy will be over 95 percent. BNEF was not looking at what could theoretically happen by mid-century if countries pushed as hard as required by the Paris Climate Accord. They were just looking at business as usual over the next two decades.
A study out earlier this month found, “Indonesia has far more than enough pumped hydro storage sites to support a 100% renewable electricity grid.” Storage is one of the most straightforward ways to integrate wind and solar power into the grid, to account for the times when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine
Pumped hydro is by far the most widely used electricity storage system in the world. Water is pumped from a reservoir at a lower level to one at a higher level when there is excess electricity or when electricity can be generated at a low cost. Then, during a period of high electricity demand (and price), water in the upper reservoir is run through the hydroelectric plant’s turbines to produce electricity for immediate sale.
In the International Energy Agency’s 2012 Technology Roadmap: Hydropower, “Pumped storage hydropower capacities would be multiplied by a factor of 3 to 5,” by 2050. The U.S. Department of Energy has projected that “domestic hydropower could grow from 101 gigawatts to nearly 150 gigawatts of combined electricity generation and storage capacity by 2050.”
In 2016, NOAA researchers concluded that just with “improvements in transmission infrastructure” using existing technology, “the United States could slash greenhouse gas emissions from power production by up to 78 percent below 1990 levels within 15 years while meeting increased demand.”
Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s own 2017 electric grid study found that “smart charging” electric vehicles can be another renewable integration strategy:
An aggregated fleet of vehicles or chargers can act as a [demand response] resource, shifting load in response to price signals or operational needs; for example, vehicle charging could be shifted to the middle of the day to absorb high levels of solar generation and shifted away from evening hours when solar generation disappears and system net load peaks.”
In the coming years, emerging and existing technology will work together to bring deeper and deeper penetration of carbon free power into the grid. The only question is no longer “if” but “when.”