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Renewable energy resources in the U.S. are sufficient to meet a significant portion of the nation's electricity needs, says a new report from the National Research Council (NRC), an organization that is part of a private, nonprofit institution providing science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter.

Fully taking advantage of these potential low carbon dioxide (CO2)-emitting sources for generating electricity will call for enhanced technologies, increased deployment, financial investments and implementation of policies to drive increased adoption of renewable electricity, according to the report.

The NRC also says that if the use of renewable electricity is to grow significantly, large increases will be required in the manufacture and installation of these technologies, offering significant employment and economic opportunities.

Hydroelectric power is the largest source of renewable electricity in the U.S., generating 7% of all U.S. electric power in 2007. Non-hydroelectric renewable resources - solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass - account for only 2.5% of U.S. electricity, although they have the potential to contribute far more, the report says. Nationally, solar and wind resources, in particular, could offer significant amounts of electrical power.

Technological advancements will continue to be needed to reduce costs and make renewable electricity technologies more efficient, the report says, but even with current technologies, renewable resources could contribute more than they do now.

With accelerated deployment, increases in transmission capacity and other electric-grid improvements, non-hydroelectric renewables could technically contribute up to 10% of U.S. electricity by 2020, and 20% or more by 2035.

However, major scientific advances and changes to the way electricity is generated, transmitted and used, will be needed before renewables can contribute the majority of U.S. electricity. Necessary improvements include the development of intelligent, two-way electric grids; large-scale and distributed electricity storage; and significantly enhanced, yet cost-effective, long-distance electricity transmission.

For renewable electricity to make a significant contribution to U.S. electricity generation, it is critical that there is an understanding of the scale of deployment that will be required, the report says. Large increases will be needed over current levels of manufacturing, employment, investment and installation.

For more information, visit nationalacademies.org.

SOURCE: National Research Council


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