Environmental Value of Renewable Energy Varies Much Based on the Region

New research performed at North Carolina State University reveals that the environmental advantages of renewable power generation differ considerably based on the nature of the traditional power generation offset by the renewable energy.

Environmental Value of Renewable Energy Varies Much Based on the Region

Image Credit: Karsten Würth

The research team anticipates the study will help direct future investments in renewable energy toward regions where they will do maximum good.

For years, researchers have taken different approaches to try to assess the environmental benefits of renewable energy. The Energy Information Administration started releasing detailed data on renewable power generation in 2018, and we realized that we finally had an opportunity to address this issue using real-world data.

Harrison Fell, Study Co-Author and Associate Professor of Energy Economics, North Carolina State University

Our study is the first to quantify emissions reductions from solar and wind generation relying on renewable generation data across a broad array of regions, while also accounting for electricity trade between regions,” added Fell.

For the study, the team examined data from regions covering the contiguous 48 states from July 2018 to March 2020.

The major finding of the study is that the environmental advantage of renewable energy differs considerably. Simply put, one megawatt hour (MWh) of renewable power differs based on where that power was produced.

For example, one MWh of solar power produced in Florida reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about twice as much as one MWh of solar power produced in California. That’s because California already has a cleaner grid when compared to other regions. So offsetting an hour of conventional power generation in California reduces CO2 emissions less than offsetting an hour of conventional power generation in Florida.

Jeremiah Johnson, Study Corresponding Author and Associate Professor of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, North Carolina State University

Why is that vital?

“In the near term, these findings give us insight into where we should target investments in renewable power in order to maximize the environmental benefits,” stated Johnson.

However, that was not the only finding of the NC State study.

The team also discovered that environmental advantages time and again crossed regional borders. For instance, renewable power produced in State A might be supplied to offset power generation in State B, which means that State B might gain from the environmental advantages of renewable power projects in State A.

Right now, renewable energy is largely driven by policies that vary from state to state. Our work here highlights one reason that this is not a very efficient approach to energy policy. A federal approach to renewable energy policy would be better able to account for the interstate nature of energy production, energy consumption and environmental benefits.

Harrison Fell, Study Co-Author and Associate Professor of Energy Economics, North Carolina State University

The team notes that this study successfully represents where the country’s power sector stands at present and that investments in renewable energy will probably continue.

It will be interesting to see how the distribution of benefits changes as regions expand their sustainable energy infrastructure,” stated Fell.

Journal Reference:

Fell, H & Johnson, J X (2020) Regional disparities in emissions reduction and net trade from renewables. Nature Sustainability. doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-00652-9.

Source: https://ncsu.edu

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