A well-designed combination of wind energy, solar energy, and storage in batteries and fuel cells would be a cost effective way of meeting 99 percent of electricity demands by 2030, according to a recent University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College study.
Solar power is the energy generated from the conversion of sunlight into electricity, directly using photovoltaics (PV) in the form of solar panels. Wind power is the generated from wind turbines; a device that converts kinetic energy from the wind into mechanical energy in the process known as wind power. Both of these power sources can be generated and then placed in batteries and fuel cells for storage.
One of the main critiques of both solar and wind power is that these are intermittent sources of energy, generating energy only when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, respectively. This thus creates potential problems for utilities and grid operators who must keep the supply and demand for electricity in balance to meet the demands of the population, even when the conditions for these renewable energy sources are not ideal.
The authors of the study thought that a combined system of wind and solar may be the answer to this problem. Combining the the two resources in a single system would allow for a more efficient use of transmission lines and a more cost-effective way of generating electricity.
To test their theory, the research team developed a computer model to consider all of the combinations – 28 billion to be exact – of renewable energy sources and storage mechanisms. The combinations were simultaneously tested over four years of historical hourly weather data and electricity demands from 13 states, representing one-fifth of the country’s total electric grid.
The study, published in the Journal of Power Sources, used estimates of solar, wind, and general technology costs in 2030, leaving out government subsidies – since their future is unknown – to project the cost of renewables in 2030. The projected costs are about half of the current wind and solar costs and maintenance costs would stay the same.
When comparing this cost to the costs of fossil fuel use, which includes both the estimated fuel cost and the known negative externalities, including human health hazards caused by air pollution, they found that the combined solar and wind plants would be more cost effective than using fossil fuels.
This project isn’t the first to realize that a combination of wind power, solar power, and storage could be a cost-effective solution to meeting high energy demands. For example, California also made this realization last year.
Thanks to the combined legislation, policies, and citizen motivation, California became the top solar state in the country and solar power projects in San Diego has outreached any other city within the state. However, they still had to deal with the problem of solar power not being able to generate electricity all of the time. So in November 2012, California created its first wind and solar plant in the Tehachapi-Mojave region of Southern California, where the wind blows strongest at night while the sun is strongest during the day.
In the Tehachapi-Mojave region a 140-megawatt Pacific Wind farm was placed nearby a 143-megawatt solar power station in Catalina to create a hybrid wind-solar power plant. The power generated in this project will supply solar initiatives with renewable energy to use in residential areas and businesses. The Tehachapi-Mojave is just one example to support the findings of the joint UD and DTCC study.
By 2030, when fossil fuels are expected to increase in price and decrease in amount available, renewable sources will need to come into play in order to meet energy demands. It is important to design and implement the sustainable projects so that when the country is in need of energy, it will be readily available.