Solar could provide one third of energy in western America, saving US$20 billion by 2050 if price reduction targets are met, according to research by Berkley University of California.
Using a computer simulation of western America’s grid, Berkley predicted what would happen if the US reaches the goals defined in the department of energy (DoE)’s SunShot initiative.
SunShot started in 2011 with the aim of making solar energy commercially viable in the US. The initiative predicts when solar reaches US$0.06 per kWh it will be cost competitive with all other forms of energy.
The study shows achieving the SunShot targets could moderate increasing electricity costs. Solar power could save consumers an estimated 14% of their bill – or more than US$20 billion annually by 2050.
If the initiative's targets are achieved, Berkley predicts solar will displace natural gas and nuclear, and decrease carbon emissions.
Study leader Dan Kammen, distinguished professor of energy in UC Berkeley’s energy and resources group, said: “Saving the planet may be possible at only a modest cost.”
Kammen also advised carbon caps or taxes as incentives for utilities to move towards using solar energy and investment in plants and storage. “Using such a comprehensive strategy could substantially reduce the actual consumer cost of meeting carbon emission targets,” he added.
Author and Berkeley graduate Ana Mileva said: “Our goal is to study how we can keep costs low and ensure that the grid stays reliable as we transition to an electricity system with lower emissions and higher levels of intermittent renewable generation.”
The computer model, known as SWITCH was developed at Berkley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL). SWITCH examines energy storage and generation, from the Kansas/Colorado state border to northwest Mexico and also Canadian provinces Alberta and British Columbia.
The study has also been accepted for publication in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.