the possible use of renewable sources of energy for electric power production. In 1978, with the passage of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), small generation units and renewable resources were given special attention. The introduction of incentives such as tax credits at the federal and state level, as well as renewables portfolio standards (RPSs), spurred the development of renewable technologies. Growth in the 1980s and early 1990s was spotty, but the succeeding decade has seen a dramatic increase in renewable projects for electric power, particularly in wind and solar.
Today, there is a nexus of concerns about the U.S. energy portfolio: concerns about the environment, principally arising from climate change issues; concerns about energy security, principally due to the large amounts of oil imported from volatile parts of the world; and concerns about the economy, principally because of sharp increases in the price of oil, natural gas, and basic construction commodities. Collectively, these concerns beg the question of whether it is time for reevaluating and redesigning our electric infrastructure to extend energy efficiency to a much greater extent and use domestic, non-polluting, economically attractive energy sources. Thus, this provides the motivation for the continued but growing interest in renewable-based electric power.
Such concerns, consequently, have led to greater interest in renewable electric power. As part of the America’s Energy Future (AEF) project initiated by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering (Appendix A), the National Research Council convened the Panel on Electricity from Renewable Resources (Appendix B) to examine all the factors that must be considered if any renewable energy resource is to become a significant contributor to meeting U.S. energy needs (see Box P.1 for the full statement of task). Presented in this stand-alone report, the work of this independent panel also serves as input to the larger AEF study outlined in Appendix A.
This report of the panel considers resource bases, technologies, economics, environmental impacts, and deployment issues and also presents selected deployment scenarios and their impacts. The major focus is the relative near term, from the present to the year 2020. The report also considers, in less detail, the mid-term between the years 2020 and 2035 and the long term beyond 2035. The goal of the report is to determine if renewable electric power technologies can make a significant (>20 percent) contribution to the total electric power needs of the United States and on what basis. It examines cost and deployment issues in detail.
This report is the result of considerable time and effort contributed by the panel members. Many issues needed a fair and honest discussion, and the panel members proved capable of the task. The panel in turn appreciates the dedicated