The ongoing debate around whether it’s feasible to have an electric grid running on 100 percent renewable power in the coming decades often misses a key point: many countries and regions are already at or close to 100 percent now.
According to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are seven countries already at, or very, near 100 percent renewable power: Iceland (100 percent), Paraguay (100), Costa Rica (99), Norway (98.5), Austria (80), Brazil (75), and Denmark (69.4). The main renewables in these countries are hydropower, wind, geothermal, and solar.
A new international study, which debunks many myths about renewable energy, notes that many large population regions are “at or above 100%” including Germany’s Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Hostein regions, New Zealand’s South Island, and Denmark’s Samsø island. In Canada, both Quebec and British Columbia are at nearly 100 percent renewable power.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance has projected that by 2040, Germany’s grid will see nearly 75 percent renewable penetration, Mexico will be over 80 percent, and Brazil and Italy will be over 95 percent. BNEF was not looking at what could theoretically happen by mid-century if countries pushed as hard as required by the Paris Climate Accord. They were just looking at business as usual over the next two decades.
Pumped hydro is by far the most widely used electricity storage system in the world. Water is pumped from a reservoir at a lower level to one at a higher level when there is excess electricity or when electricity can be generated at a low cost. Then, during a period of high electricity demand (and price), water in the upper reservoir is run through the hydroelectric plant’s turbines to produce electricity for immediate sale.
In 2016, NOAA researchers concluded that just with “improvements in transmission infrastructure” using existing technology, “the United States could slash greenhouse gas emissions from power production by up to 78 percent below 1990 levels within 15 years while meeting increased demand.”
In the coming years, emerging and existing technology will work together to bring deeper and deeper penetration of carbon free power into the grid. The only question is no longer “if” but “when.”