Adding wind, solar and energy storage facilities on a large scale to replace gas combined cycle plants encounters major technical and economic limits.
Doubling existing solar and wind generation plus rapid expansion of offshore wind by 2030 will require over $60 billion in new investments, will increase annual subsidies from $1 to over $5 billion, and will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 30%. Substantial additional investment and subsidies will be required for associated transmission and distribution improvements. Consumers who already pay the highest rates in the continental US will
encounter large rate increases with negative regional economic impacts.
Most of the region’s CO2 emissions are produced by gas power plants that provide grid control and reliability. Carbon abatement costs ($/ton CO2 avoided) are calculated by comparing unsubsidized costs for wind and solar with gas generation, and then dividing by the amount of CO2 avoided. Solar and wind generation will cost 2-15 times the current federal policy guideline of $51/ton as the estimated economic impact of carbon dioxide emissions. The uncertain environmental value of reducing CO2 emissions may be less than the economic damage from higher energy costs and market disruptions.
While most CO2 is produced in the evenings, solar generation occurs mid-day, and wind generation occurs intermittently. New solar and wind generation will increasingly occur at the wrong times, resulting in wasted surpluses (curtailments) and lost opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions. Some surplus generation from solar and wind will be driven into the competitive market by large operating subsidies, offering negative pricing and undermining the value of plants that need to operate during those periods. About 20% of solar and wind generation will be wasted in 2030.
Battery storage must operate in 24-hour cycles, limiting the opportunity to reduce surpluses that vary unevenly. Low utilization makes battery storage prohibitively expensive and ineffective in reducing CO2 emissions.
Subsidies for solar and wind generation will increase to over three times the market value of electricity in 2030, socializing most of the cost of regional power generation. State regulatory actions to mandate investment in solar, battery and offshore wind projects by distribution companies constitute partial re-regulation of the power industry in New England.
The authors intend to share evaluation tools and modeling approaches through a new platform for on-line collaboration between universities and other organizations.