Wind and solar could supply 80 percent of U.S. energy needs

wind solar renewable energy needs turbine fieldv2

If the United States were to focus its energy on renewable sources, it could reliably supply 80 percent of its electricity demand through solar panels and wind turbines. That is the result of a study out this week in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, which analyzed hourly U.S. weather data over 36 years to unpack the geophysical barriers holding wind and solar energy back.

To say the U.S. has significant green energy potential is nothing new. Sustainability has long been within our reach with the right amount of effort, investment, and infrastructure. But in the recent study, scientists tried to simplify this assessment and consider how much of our energy needs could be met by these sources, independent of future technologies.

“Previous studies have used complex models with technologies and costs to show that the U.S. could affordably get around 80 percent of our electricity from solar and wind,” Steven Davis, an Earth systems scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and one of the lead authors of the study, told Digital Trends. “We’ve stripped away some of the complexity and in the new paper show that the 80 percent number boils down to natural variability in sun and wind.”

In other words, we could reliably reach that four-fifths goal with current technologies by accounting for seasonal fluctuations in daylight and wind, according to the study. However, if we were to source more than 80 percent our energy from renewables, we would need to account for significant hikes in storage and energy generation.

“So, for example, we might get 80 percent of electricity from solar and wind with 12 hours’ worth of energy storage,” he said. “But to get 99 percent of our power from those sources alone would require either building twice as many solar panels and wind turbine or else having weeks’ worth of storage.”

Right now, the main barriers include a storage and transmission infrastructure, which would require substantial financial investment. Cross-country transmission lines could cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Although that is a lot of money, it’s cheaper than the more than $1 trillion needed to store that amount of electricity in today’s most economical batteries.

In short, the study gives an optimistic outlook for renewables in the U.S., putting seemingly lofty goals within our current reach and emphasizing the importance of energy storage solutions.

“While still a lot to take in, I think what makes the study exciting is that our conclusions don’t rely on assumptions about this or that technology or cost,” Davis said. “Rather, we’re looking at patterns of sun and wind over 36 years and the results describe the fundamental challenge Mother Nature has laid out for us.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: inflatable backpacks and robotic submarines

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Is this proof Google plans to launch a Pixel Watch soon?

From its Pixel smartphones to Google Home, the Google brand is quickly becoming synonymous with high-quality consumer hardware. This year, it looks like Google may branch out a little further by creating its first smartwatch.

Arm’s future CPU designs may finally catch up with Intel in laptops by 2020

Arm publicly revealed its CPU road map for the first time, covering designs to be released through 2020. Typically disclosed under an NDA, Arm revealed its plans to show how its CPU designs will advance the always-on laptop.

Apple preps production of updated MacBook Air for a 2018 launch

To reach its rumored launch timeline of later this year for its low-cost notebook, Apple is expected to begin production of its updated MacBook Air soon. The sub-$1,000 laptop could launch as early as September or October.
Emerging Tech

Buying on a budget? Here’s all the best tech you can snag for $25 or less

We live in a world where you can get a cheeseburger for $1, a functioning computer for $5, and thousands of HD movies for $10 -- so it stands to reason that you should be able to pick up some pretty sweet gear for $25.
Emerging Tech

Science says waste beer could help us live on Mars

Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a new super-insulating gel, created from beer waste, which could one day be used for building greenhouse-like habitats on Mars.
Emerging Tech

Engineers have made a new type of lithium battery that won’t explode

While statistically rare, the lithium-ion batteries used in mobile devices have been known to burst into flames. Researchers from University of Michigan have been working to change that.
Emerging Tech

Genetically engineered bacteria paint microscopic masterpieces

By engineering E. coli bacteria to respond to light, scientists at the University of Rome have guided it like tiny drones toward patterns that depict Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk’s Boring Company wants to dig a tunnel to Dodger Stadium

Elon Musk's Boring Company wants to build a high-speed transportation tunnel connecting Dodger Stadium to a nearby Metro station. The system would run 150-mph passenger pods between the stadium and a terminus to the west.
Emerging Tech

Watch as a ‘lifeguard drone’ rescues a swimmer struggling at sea

These days, drones are finding a range of roles in a myriad of fields. Lifeguards, for example, are making use of the drone's ability to quickly deploy flotation devices while also offering an eye in the sky to survey the scene.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? Here are the best drones on the market right now

To help you navigate the increasingly large and ever-changing landscape of consumer UAVs, here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Experiment suggests that the best robot bosses could be jerks

Researchers have been investigating how future robot bosses can coax the most productivity out of us flesh-and-blood employees. The sad answer? Quite possibly by behaving like jerks.
Emerging Tech

VR experience shows caregivers what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s disease

Los Angeles-based VR startup Embodied Labs has developed a virtual experience that puts users in the shoes of a person with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia in the U.S.