The U.S. states that have instituted renewal portfolio standards (RPS)—quotas for the share of their utilities’ electricity demand that must be met by renewables—have paid marginally more for electricity, but reaped large rewards in health and environmental benefits, researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have found.
The researchers examined RPS in 29 states that have them, as well as in Washington, DC, concluding that “more than half of all renewable energy installations since 2000 have been created to satisfy an RPS,” Midwest Energy News reports.
The study, conducted before last November’s election shifted the political winds in the United States sharply against pro-renewable public policy, modeled the consequences if existing RPSs remained in place, and if they were expanded across the country with raised targets. It did not examine a scenario of retreat from existing standards.
“Under existing RPSs,” MWEN writes, “the country will count on renewables for 26% of electricity generation by 2030 and 40% by 2050. Under the high-RPS scenario, renewables would reach 35% by 2030 and 49% by 2050.” (Either way, that’s a far cry from the 4% of global energy demand that ExxonMobil, whose CEO is in line to become Donald Trump’s secretary of state, expects renewables to supply by 2040.)
Meeting existing RPSs will cost the states that have them about “US$31 billion, or about three-quarters of a cent per kilowatt-hour of renewable energy in terms of levelized costs,” writes correspondent David Ferris. But the resulting 4% to 5% drop in common air pollutants will save them US$97 billion—three times the investment—in reduced health costs. A “stronger RPS regime” that reduced those pollutants by 29% would save US$558 billion.
Existing RPS will reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions 6%, delivering another US$161 billion in benefits. If RPS were adopted nationally with higher settings, they could save US$599 billion in avoided costs.
A second benefit would come from the savings in water, “used in copious quantities to cool fossil fuel power plants,” MWEN notes. Because the most popular forms of renewable energy use less water than fossil energy, national adoption of an RPS would save the United States enough water for “420,000 homes under the existing portfolio standards and 1.9 million homes under a high-RPS scenario.”
A year ago, the same researchers calculated that in the 29 states with renewable portfolio standards, the policies had returned benefits worth seven times their cost in 2013.