By the Union of Concerned Scientists
Last update: May 8, 2001
Over the past two decades, renewable energy technologies have made great strides in improving efficiency and reducing costs.
- The cost of producing electricity from wind has dropped 90 percent since the 1980s. Currently producing electricity for 3 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, it is competitive with the cost of electricity from a new coal-fired power plant. Through additional investment in research and development, the price could reach 2.5 cents a kilowatt hour within the next few years.
- 3000 megawatts of wind power are currently installed in the U.S. That amount is expected to increase 50 percent by end of 2001.
- Wind energy is cost-competitive with new plants fired with fossil fuel. Utility contracts have been signed recently with a levelized price of less than 4 cents per kilowatt-hour.
- Good wind areas, which cover 6 percent of the contiguous U.S. land area, are large enough to supply more than 4.4 billion megawatt-hours – more than one and a third times the total amount of electricity used in the United States in 1999.
- Wind power is expected to provide 25 percent of Germany’s power by 2010.
- The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that wind energy production could be expanded in the U.S. to serve the electricity needs of ten million homes.
- 200,000 homes in the United States use some type of photovoltaic (PV) solar technology and the market is expanding 15 percent annually.
- An area 100 miles square in Nevada could produce as much electricity as is used in the United States annually.
- Photovoltaic systems produce electricity without pollution. They also pay back within three years the energy used in producing them and the CO2 generated in doing so.
- A National Renewable Energy Lab study reports that PV is as well suited for utility applications in the central and eastern United States as it is in the western regions.
- Photovoltaic panels produce electricity at times when the electricity grid is at peak demand. Electricity derived from PV that is connected to the grid can provide critical peak needs and can help to avoid electricity supply problems, such as the recent rolling blackouts in California.
- Biomass is an abundant resource that can be tapped to produce energy. Sources can include crops grown specifically for energy, such as fast-growing trees and grasses like hybrid poplars or switchgrass. Other sources include agricultural residues, like corn stover and rice straw, as well as wood waste like sawdust, tree prunings and yard clippings.
- By 2010, biomass power could provide an additional 3000 megawatts of electric capacity in the U.S., increasing the total contribution of this sustainable energy supply to 10,000 megawatts of capacity.
- Worldwide, biomass is the fourth largest energy resource after coal, oil and natural gas.
- Modifying coal plants to derive 3 to 15 percent of their fuel requirements from energy crops and other biomass sources would significantly improve the environment while offering U.S. farmers with new market opportunities.
- Geothermal energy supplies about 6 percent of the electricity in California, 10 percent of the power in Northern Nevada, about 25 percent of the electricity for the Island of Hawaii (the Big Island) and significant power in Utah. These states, together with Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington, could produce nearly 20,000 megawatts with enhanced technology.
- DOE has estimated that we could increase our generation of geothermal energy almost ten-fold, supplying 10 percent of the energy needs of the West.
- The United States has an installed geothermal generating capacity of about 2700 megawatts. That’s the equivalent of about 58 million barrels of oil, and provides enough electricity for 3.7 million people. The cost of producing this power ranges from 4¢ to 8¢ per kilowatt hour. The geothermal industry is working to achieve a geothermal life-cycle energy cost of 3¢ per kilowatt hour.
- The United States already has about 1,300 geothermal direct-use systems in operation.
- A recently updated resource inventory of 10 western states identified 271 communities located within 5 miles of a geothermal resource.
For more information, contact Alden Meyer, 202/223-6133, Union of Concerned Scientists