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Can Renewables Power An Entire City?

Can Renewables Power An Entire City? thumbnail

More than 170 cities across the United States have set goals to power their communities with 100% renewable electricity, according to the Sierra Club.

How realistic would it be to generate electricity for an entire city solely with sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower? Based on a sampling of responses from some renewables market-watchers, perhaps the most optimistic answer is “it depends.”

For starters, gauging a city’s electricity demand hinges on a variety of factors. Paulina Jaramillo, professor of engineering and public policy, Scott Institute Energy Fellow, and co-director of the Green Design Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, told Rigzone that the electricity needs of major cities can vary greatly within a single country. She cited as examples cities in the Northern and Southern United States.

To illustrate, Jaramillo pointed out the average residential utility customer in New Orleans, La., needs significantly more electricity per year than a similar customer in Pittsburgh, Pa. – largely on account of differences in air conditioning demand. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average U.S. residential customer needed 10,649 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in 2019. Louisiana took the top spot among states in terms of average annual residential consumption (14,787 kWh) and Hawaii (6,296 kWh) showed the lowest usage for the period, EIA stated.

Jaramillo also observed that isolating the electricity demand for a single city is difficult.

“That’s tricky because we have an interconnected grid that doesn’t just power one city,” she said, referencing the Eastern Interconnect, the Western Interconnect, and Texas major electrical grids. “You can build enough renewable for a city, but we can’t just say that Pittsburgh is buying 100% renewables.”

Although a city could buy all of its power from wind farms, for instance, that power is still going to the grid, Jaramillo continued. She noted that grids could be built 100% renewable but added the economic feasibility of doing so – despite ongoing cost reductions – remains a challenge. Along those same lines, she said that high costs represent hurdles to storing power via electric batteries or hydrogen.

Power and Storage

“It would be tough for renewables to provide 100% of electricity,” remarked Mary Anne Sullivan, senior counsel in the Washington, D.C., office of law firm Hogan Lovells and a U.S. Department of Energy general counsel during the Clinton administration. “Because of the intermittent nature of solar and wind, to provide consistent reliable power, they depend on storage, whether from batteries or other forms of electricity storage, such as pumped storage.”

Sullivan pointed out that pumped storage (associated with hydroelectric power) is not an option in many locations, adding that maintaining the intermittency of wind and solar power demand an “enormous” amount of battery storage. For example, she cited a plan by the utility Southern California Edison (NYSE: EIX) to contract with a large battery project capable of storing 400 megawatt-hours (MWh) (400,000 kWh) of electricity yet insufficient for covering an entire city.

“Wind and solar still produce intermittently and we do not have a reliable, cost-effective battery solution,” said Fernando Valle, senior oil and gas analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “Wind and solar can generate a significant portion of electricity demand at peak times.”

What About Nuclear?

“Many new nuclear technologies are much more passively safe and less capital-intensive, and they can be part of a carbon-free power solution,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan’s reference to nuclear power generation provides an opportunity to compare the capacity factors of various energy sources. A power plant’s capacity factor gauges how often the plant runs at maximum power, according to EIA. The statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy explains on its website that a facility with a 100% capacity factor constantly generates power.

In 2019 nuclear power boasted a 93.5% capacity factor – well above any other energy source that year, EIA stated. Natural gas-fired plans, with a 56.8% capacity factor, ranked second in the EIA’s comparison for the period. EIA noted that other capacity factors by source for 2019 include:

  • Coal: 47.5%
  • Hydropower: 39.1%
  • Wind: 34.8%
  • Solar: 24.5%

“Wind in the U.S. generally has a capacity factor of less than 50%, and solar has a capacity factor usually below 30%,” said Tom McNulty, Houston-based Principal and Energy Practice leader with Valuescope, Inc. “It is not consistent enough to be able to be a baseload source of power for now. This might change, if there are significant breakthroughs in storage technology and capacity, but right now the answer (to whether renewables alone can power a city) is no.”

To be sure, McNulty acknowledged that exceptions exist in places with substantial hydro resources – such as Brazil, New Zealand, and Norway.

Vicki Knott, CEO with the control room automation firm Crux OCM, said that a city’s suitability for full renewable electricity potential depends largely on its geographical location.

“For example, if you are located in the mountains with an abundance of hydro dams, then the answer is likely yes,” she explained. “This is not the case for most cities in the world, introducing a need for a diversified energy grid to ensure base and peak electricity demand can be met.”

Acknowledging the goal of 100% renewables, Knott expressed her view that “we are not even close” to reaching the global generation infrastructure necessary for meeting base and peak electrical loads.

“Combining that with continually increasing global population and energy demand, we are chasing a bar that is getting higher and higher,” Knott said. “The only way to build the renewable infrastructure needed for the growing global demand is to use fossil fuels as an energy source to manufacture the renewable infrastructure – impacting the actual cradle-to-grave environmental impact of renewable infrastructure.”

The alternative to the challenge of finding sufficient space for a utility-scale solar plant or wind farm near a city is to install new power transmission lines for long distances to deliver electricity from renewable sources, noted Sullivan. However, she observed that such projects lack universal support.

“There is a lot of recent history that shows that is a very tough sell to those who will look at the lines every day and get no benefit from them,” she said.

Going beyond the city level, some European countries have managed to generate enough renewable energy at certain periods of time to enable grid operators to shut down non-renewable generation, noted Christopher Goncalves, chair and managing director of Energy and Climate practice with consulting firm Berkeley Research Group, LLC (BRG). However, he added that he knows of no instance yet where renewable energy supplies 100% of a country’s needs.

“This is a good long-term question that may still seem a bit academic given how little renewable energy has penetrated the power grids of most countries worldwide,” Goncalves said. “We are far from 100%.”

Goncalves added there is no reason to advance the goal of 100% renewables when it is possible to achieve net-zero power generation with substantial renewable energy usage ranging from, say, 60% to 80% – under one or more of the following conditions:

  • an adequate baseload supply of nuclear generation, which exists
  • ample low-cost battery storage to manage intermittency and load swings, which he said is technically possible but still moving along the technology cost-reduction curve
  • a material marginal supply of green hydrogen electrolysis for power generation, which he also said is technically possible but faces a similar cost-reduction curve hurdle
  • sophisticated smart-grid technology and artificial intelligence solutions to instantaneous load management, which he said are under development.

“In short, we have the technologies to achieve net-zero power generation based primarily – not exclusively – on renewable energy generation, but we might be 5-10 years away from beginning to deploy those technologies at a massive scale and competitive economic cost,” concluded Goncalves.

To contact the author, email [email protected]. The Sierra Club’s “Ready for 100” website provides a map of U.S. cities that seek to obtain 100% of their electricity from renewables. The EIA’s website provides additional information about capacity factors.


19 Comments on "Can Renewables Power An Entire City?"

  1. Theedrich on Fri, 19th Mar 2021 7:41 pm 

    BIDΞN: “Asia, send us replacement whores. We lost a few in Atlanta and we need to keep the economy going.  We’re pretending that the reason for the loss is White racism so we can guiltify Whites everywhere and take power.  We need to abolish America and replace it with mulattos and ThirdWorld trash.  That way the oligarchs can take complete world control.”

    Thus the true intention of the U.S., the global king of lies.  Yankeeland is the earth’s cancer.  The question now is, can the planet survive much longer if the “indispensable nation” is not excised?  “Renewable energy” is another promissory perpetual-motion machine that will delude the herd into following the megalomaniacs into planeticide.  If there is any hope left whatsoever, it can be only in the iron will of the leaders of North Korea.

  2. Cloggie on Fri, 19th Mar 2021 10:14 pm 

    It’s absolutely possible to run a country on renewable energy, but the US loves loves to waste trillions on failed projects like the F35 and F22 in a futile attempt to conquer the world… with negroes and

    “The U.S. Air Force Just Admitted The F-35 Stealth Fighter Has Failed“

    The US is too late to play a prominent role in the renewable transition. Nobody in America (and hence this board) believes in anything else but oil & gas. This is the line of “thinking”:

    “Yabut… To Get Wind Power You Need Fossil Fuel”

    That’s OK. Mother Europa will teach its reluctant and recalcitrant kid how to do renewables, after the end of empire, when the natural order between Europe and (a balkanized) North-America will be restored.

  3. Kevin Cobley on Sat, 20th Mar 2021 12:04 am 

    Adelaide a city of 1.2 million is already powered by renewables.

  4. Cloggie on Sat, 20th Mar 2021 3:03 am 

    “Adelaide a city of 1.2 million is already powered by renewables.“

    No it isn’t, only the municipality:

    “City of Adelaide switches to 100% renewable electricity“

    In a first for a South Australian council, the City of Adelaide’s operations will be powered by a solar-wind electricity blend under a partnership with electricity retailer Flow Power. The switch will bring the City a step closer to its goal of becoming one of the world’s first carbon-neutral cities and help South Australia’s energy transition.

    But it is obvious that sunbathing Adelaide is perfectly suited to indeed reach 100% in the near future.

    Here a source that mentions 100% in 2030 for South-Australia:

  5. The_Forbin_Project on Sat, 20th Mar 2021 12:07 pm 

    Can Renewables Power An Entire City?

    you mean actually as in the physical sense ?

    well no, wind is fickle and solar periodic daytime generation.

    Melbourne uses hydro as backup, so yes, possible for them.

    But more likley an accounting fudge as the article slips into talk of “carbon neutral” twaddle that makes headlines these days……..

    still, you can power a city or a region for a while with renewables so some good can be done .

    Its when their fuel sources dry up you’re in trouble.

  6. Cloggie on Sat, 20th Mar 2021 1:06 pm 

    Forbin just discovered the storage problem, he claims is unsolvable if no hydro power is available.

    In fact, it is even “worse” as pumped hydropower can only can deliver for a couple of hours, where in reality seasonal storage is required, to the tune of ca. 40% total annual energy consumption to bridge most energy supply crunches. The solution to the storage problem can only be chemical, most likely hydrogen or some derivative.

    And demand management, for instance via price.

    “Renewables long ‘clear’ market winner over fossils but capital shift lagging: IEA“

    The renewable energy generation problem has long been solved, renewables have beaten all competitors. The buffering is the last remaining item on the todo-list.

  7. DT on Sat, 20th Mar 2021 1:24 pm 

    “Can Renewables Power An Entire City?”

    As soon as a replacement for diesel fuel shows up. All the trucks that deliver goods to cities need to be replaced. Lets not forget about the heavy equipment that builds roads, bridges and wind turbines. No where in this article is this issue brought up. As a matter of course all of the proposals put forth, never mention the heavy lifting that diesel provides humanity and what is in the wings to replace diesel power. Are all of the gas powered, bass generation, for electricity going to be replaced? With what? Intermittent wind and solar? If the city is in a place with a flat landscape stored hydro will never work. Making grandiose proposals to go green are a great PR stunt but making it reality is……………………wait for it……………………not happening.

  8. makati1 on Sat, 20th Mar 2021 4:08 pm 

    The__, yes, if it is hydro. No, if it is wind or solar. I lived in a part of Pennsylvania that had hydro power, AND nuclear, AND coal, no wind or solar. There was never an outage unless it was poles down because of a storm.

    My new location, in the Philippines, has gas powered electric, hydro and, a tiny bit of wind power. Again, the only outage is for poles down or maintenance/upgrades. Multi source electric is best. Total “renewables”, not so. Not going to ever happen. Still too much NG and coal.

  9. Theedrich on Sun, 21st Mar 2021 3:33 am 

    The Land of the Lie is running on fumes. According to Gail Tverberg, Headed for a Collapsing Debt Bubble (2021 Mar 20), “the economy seems to be headed for a collapse of its debt bubble.”  She reports that

    The IMF estimates that the world economy shrank by 3.5% in 2020.  There are many areas with even worse indications:  Euro Area, -7.2%;  United Kingdom, -10.0%;  India, -8.0%;  Mexico, -8.5%;  and South Africa, -7.5%.  If these situations cannot be turned around quickly, we should expect to see collapsing debt bubbles.  Even the US, which shrank by 3.4%, needs a rapid return to growth if it is to keep its debt bubble inflated.

    She also says (item No. 8) that “The world can add more debt, but it is difficult to see how the debt bubble that is created will really pull the world economy forward rapidly enough to keep the debt bubble from collapsing in the next year or two.”  The serious implication of this statement, barring supernatural intervention, is that the Indispensable Nation will enter an extreme crisis before about 2025.  Moreover, intermittent wind and sunlight (“clean energy”) energy sources (despite government lies) are heavily subsidized, so that their EROEI is negative.  The expected end result:  “The standard of living of most people will fall precipitously.”

    In short, the problem is not monetary policy, or creating government jobs, or importing more ThirdWorlders to “do the work Americans don’t want to do” (and creating a one-party state with low-IQ aliens who will forever vote Democrat).  It is a problem of basic physics, of a global population expanding beyond it ecological niche.  Shifting the declining amount of energy-per-person around to make it all more “equitable” (and give politicians permanent power) is not going to stop the general decline.  Or the validity of the Pareto principle.  As Gail makes clear, the decline is “secular” — that is, long-term.  The COVID pandemic only accelerated and exacerbated the demise of the Land of the Knave and Home of the Freebie.

    Yankeeland’s response will probably be more war.  But if so, the Pentagon’s prospective prey, given modern military toys, may eventually cause the American predator state to experience some of the same suffering it has imposed on so much of the rest of the world.

    Won’t that be a surprise.

  10. makati1 on Sun, 21st Mar 2021 4:38 pm 

    Theedrich, I totally agree. The old farts with all the money think they can rule the world. What is left of it after China and Russia levels the West, that is.

    Oceans no longer shield Amerika. Not when a nuclear missile traveling 6,000 to 8,000 mph can hit the mainland in less than an hour and only minutes if from Russia.

    Amerika has gone insane. Just look at who is President.

  11. Cloggie on Mon, 22nd Mar 2021 3:03 am 


    “Trump is returning to social media in a few months with his own platform, spokesman says”

    Excellent, create a parallel society for patriots in preparation for the final split.

    Moreover, intermittent wind and sunlight (“clean energy”) energy sources (despite government lies) are heavily subsidized, so that their EROEI is negative.

    Absurd statement: “heavily subsidized, hence negative EROEI”.

    First of all, there is no form of energy more subsidized than fossil fuel:

    “Fossil fuels given $3.1 trillion subsidies at ‘staggering’ twenty-times level of renewables”

    Furthermore, there is no such thing as “negative EROEI”, what you probably mean is “EROEI < 1".

    In reality there is no strong relationship between EROEI and financial subsidies. EROEI is the total amount of energy generated during the lifetime of the energy source, divided by the amount of energy necessary to set up the energy source in the first place. Offshore wind has an EROEI of 60 (in reality much higher because wind towers and monopiles can be reused). PV-Solar in the desert has an EROEI of 10-30 (IEA, p165):

    Expect EROEI of pv-solar to increase substantially, once the old-school labor-intensive silicon wafers will be replaced by thin film solar.

    In 2021 there is no cheaper source of energy than renewables:

    "Lazard – Renewable Energy Cheapest by Far"

    Note: this does not include storage cost, but the entire world is working on finding a solution for that problem and many promising leads exist.

  12. Biden's hairplug on Mon, 22nd Mar 2021 4:45 am 

    Makati is gloating too much. If China will finally make its move towards Taiwan, they will preemptively occupy the Philippines as well, just like the Japanese did in WW2, to prevent the Americans from coming to the aid of the Taiwanese regime. And if makati is indeed a white guy, as he claims he is, he could simply be interned as a security risk.

    “What’s in the New China Military Presence Fears in the Philippines?”

    “Philippines asks Chinese flotilla to leave disputed reef”

    China and the US are locking horns, the EU and Russia lean back, smoke a cigar:

    “Pentagon pushes for Pacific missile defence site to counter China’s threat to the US”

    The disputed location:,105.1112083,4.7z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x33d33c51c728c0b9:0x90934f8bd5410c66!8m2!3d9.952586!4d114.656236

  13. DT on Mon, 22nd Mar 2021 1:26 pm 

    “Lazard – Renewable Energy Cheapest by Far”

    “Note: this does not include storage cost” Says Cloggie.

    I Say, YEA but no viable storage means so called renewable energy are useless for long haul transportation for example the way diesel plays a role in our society.

  14. Biden’s hairplug on Mon, 22nd Mar 2021 3:02 pm 

    That famous 2%:

    “Who’s Miseducating America’s Elites?
    7 of 8 Ivy League Presidents Are Jewish“

    Media same story. They determine what America thinks, namely “the abolition of whiteness‘.

    This is even worse as Weimar, with far less public awareness of what is really going on.

  15. Biden’s hairplug on Mon, 22nd Mar 2021 3:12 pm 

    America has TWO presidents, or so it seems:

    “Trump Speaks Out on National Emergency at Southern Border, Slams Biden Administration“

  16. makati1 on Mon, 22nd Mar 2021 4:11 pm 

    Biden’s, you have no idea what will happen ‘WHEN’ China occupies Taiwan, not ‘IF’. You have only USMSM propaganda bullshit about what is happening here. Lies and more lies.

    First, they don’t have to ‘take over’ the Philippines. We are under their umbrella now, and no Amerikan war ship can get close to us without being sunk. Their carrier killers can reach Guam.

    Second, there is nothing on the Philippine islands China wants. No US bases or missile systems. Not saying that the Chinese will not warn the Filipinos to stay out of it. But, the Filipinos has no military dangerous to China.

    Yes, I am glad I live here and not in Police State Amerika. If you think WW3 will not come to Amerika’s shores you are either in deep denial or seriously delusional. Missiles are 20 minutes from Russia to Washington DC. or Scat Francisco. If you think Russia is not on China’ side, you have serious problems.

  17. Biden's hairplug on Tue, 23rd Mar 2021 1:38 am 

    “First, they don’t have to ‘take over’ the Philippines. We are under their umbrella now, and no Amerikan war ship can get close to us without being sunk. Their carrier killers can reach Guam.”

    There is still an American presence in the Ps, that could be expanded in a matter of days.

    “Philippines Freezes Pull-Out From Visiting U.S. Forces Agreement”

    “Second, there is nothing on the Philippine islands China wants. No US bases or missile systems. Not saying that the Chinese will not warn the Filipinos to stay out of it. But, the Filipinos has no military dangerous to China.”

    No, not the Ps, but the US. Nobody is going to ask Duterte any questions when push comes to shove. But IF China occupies Taiwan and IF the US intervenes, then the Ps are going to be fought over and occupied by one of the US or China or both.

    “If you think WW3 will not come to Amerika’s shores you are either in deep denial or seriously delusional.”

    You’re putting words in my mouth. I have always said that the end-game of WW3 will be fought out in North-America. A US losing in East-Asia, will trigger a white insurrection at home, which Washington will seek to knock down –> CW2. Greater Europe (EU+Russia) and China will back the opposing parties in that conflict in order to gain influence in North-America and will result in the US falling apart.

  18. DT on Tue, 23rd Mar 2021 3:51 pm 

    More clean green, renewable, sustainable, technology.

  19. Cloggie on Wed, 24th Mar 2021 7:00 am 

    Affordable, sustainable zero energy homes for a ca. 700 euro rent, energy bill included:

    “Affordable Sustainable Living in Aalst, Netherlands”

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