New NREL Report Evaluates the Cost and Benefit Potential of Renewable Energy

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) introduced a new report yesterday (Nov. 19) showing that renewable energy is economically viable in most of the U.S. based on the rapid decline in technology costs. The new report Estimating Renewable Energy Economic Potential in the United States: Methodology and Initial Results looks at the potential of solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and other forms of renewable energy to provide the U.S.'s electric needs.

"Declining renewable technology costs are a significant driver for these results," said NREL Energy Analyst Philipp Beiter. "Economic potential has more than tripled as a result of cost reductions already realized for renewable generation technologies between 2010 and 2014, particularly for wind and solar photovoltaics."

The report provides a new method for calculating the value of renewable energy. "This report presents one method for estimating economic potential," Beiter said. "The initial results are intended to explore this method as a screening metric for understanding the economic viability of renewable generation at a detailed geospatial resolution."

The report evaluated the amount of economically viable renewable generation available at specific locations across the country and evaluated photovoltaics (solar panels), wind, geothermal, biomass and hydropower resources. It also considers the social cost of carbon.

The report found that at 2014 costs 820 terawatt-hours of renewable energy technologies could be economically deployed beyond what's already been deployed in the U.S. "This additional potential is equivalent to nearly 20 percent of total U.S. annual electricity generation from all sources in 2014," NREL said.

Looking ahead, the report also found that in the future renewable energy will become even more competitive. "At 2020 projected costs, economic potential equals almost half of U.S. annual generation; in 2030, further cost reductions result in over 75 percent of generation, showing the significant impact that could be realized through continued research, development and deployment that drive down renewable energy costs." The report concluded.

Earlier this year the lab also produced a report showing the state of clean energy in the U.S. That report, the Quadrennial Technology Review looked at how much renewable energy is installed and how more renewable energy can be installed.

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