ScienceDaily (Apr. 3, 2012) — The least expensive way for the Western U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to help prevent the worst consequences of global warming is to replace coal with renewable and other sources of energy that may include nuclear power, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley, researchers.
The experts reached this conclusion using SWITCH, a highly detailed computer model of the electric power grid, to study generation, transmission and storage options for the states west of the Kansas/Colorado border. The model will be an important tool for utilities and government planners.
"Decarbonization of the electric power sector is critical to achieving greenhouse gas reductions that are needed for a sustainable future," said Daniel Kammen, Distinguished Professor of Energy in UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group. "To meet these carbon goals, coal has to go away from the region."
To achieve this level of decarbonization, policy changes are needed to cap or tax carbon emissions to provide an incentive to move toward low-carbon electricity sources, Kammen and the other study authors said.
While some previous studies have emphasized the high cost of carbon taxes or caps, the new study shows that replacing coal with more gas generation, as well as renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy, would result in only a moderate increase to consumers in the cost of electric power -- at most, 20 percent. They estimate a lower ratepayer cost, Kammen said, because the evolution of the electrical grid over the next 20 years -- with coordinated construction of new power plants and transmission lines -- would substantially reduce the actual consumer cost of meeting carbon emission targets. More