Wind & Solar to Produce 90% Electricity in North America by 2050: NARIS

Highlights :

  • The North American Renewable Integration Study (NARIS) has found that wind and solar energy are poised to contribute 90-95% new electricity generation to the grid in North America by 2050.
  • Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA) has welcomed NARIS, which shows that solar capacity is projected to grow to 51 GW by mid century.

Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA) has welcomed the release of the North American Renewable Integration Study (NARIS), considered to be the most comprehensive long-term analysis of power system evolution to date on the North American grid.

NARIS shows that, between now and 2050, solar energy and wind energy are poised to contribute the greatest proportion of new electricity generation to the grid—a full 90 to 95%—in both Canada and the United States. It concludes that this represents the lowest-cost pathway to the significant decarbonization and expansion of the electricity grid, while maintaining grid reliability.

According to the report, wind energy capacity is projected to range from 78 GW (in the low-cost variable generation scenario) to 150 GW (in the electrification scenario). This requires a five-to-ten-fold increase in wind energy capacity from the approximately 15 GW that was estimated by 2024 – a number which is expected to be exceeded in 2022. Solar energy capacity is projected to grow from an assumed value of 2 GW (a number that has already been exceeded) to 34 or 51 GW in 2050, based on the low-cost variable generation and electrification scenarios, respectively. This requires a ten-to-18 fold increase in solar energy capacity over this period.

Although Canada’s current energy mix is one of the cleanest in the world, with more than 80% of its electricity being generated by zero-emissions sources, and its population density is quite low, the country’s per capita power consumption is one of the highest in the world. According to one study, the average Canadian uses more energy than people in perhaps all but six countries  — Qatar, Iceland, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait — and more than any of its G7 partners.

As a partnership between Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and Secretaría de Energía de México (SENER), NARIS aims to inform grid planners, utilities, industry, policymakers, and other stakeholders throughout North America about the possible renewable energy grid-integration scenarios on a continental basis, as well as national perspectives. It consists of a suite of models for dozens of continent-wide planning scenarios, presenting multiple pathways for grid evolution through 2050.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) used a supercomputer to study four possible scenarios and 38 additional sensitivity scenarios for transitioning to a low-carbon grid, defined as reaching 80% carbon reductions from the continental electric power system. For Canada, this included 80-92% reductions by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.

For each scenario, NREL modelled the transmission, demand and contribution of energy generation technologies, including the potential impacts on costs, emissions and system adequacy, taking into account variables around policy, economics and public adoption rates.

NARIS also focused on potential cooperation between regions, and among the nations of Canada, Mexico and the US, where transmission can support the sharing of supply and the diversity of demand. There, it found that greater coordination between regions in Canada—new transmission lines—can significantly lower emissions at the lowest possible cost.

It is important to note that the base data used in this immense modelling exercise were determined at the end of 2018, when the study was commissioned, and that there have been important changes since then. For example, both Canada and the U.S. have now set significantly more ambitious emissions-reductions targets than what was used in the NARIS calculations, as detailed in our statement. Both countries have now made commitments to net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

The study also took a conservative approach to electrification, which is generally recognized as being a key component of any strategy for Canada to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2050.

The NARIS study argues that the most cost-effective way to decarbonize and expand Canada’s electricity system, while maintaining grid reliability, is to massively expand the production of wind and solar energy while investing in new transmission infrastructure that enables us to use these resources in the most efficient manner possible.

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Soumya Duggal

Soumya is a master's degree holder in English, with a passion for writing. It's an interest she has directed towards environmental writing recently, with a special emphasis on the progress being made in renewable energy.