Some think that America could switch to solar and wind power in 20 years. Put aside storage and transmission issues.
Just focus on this fact: America uses a bit more than 4 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. That's a lot of power, so much power that its scale is hard to grasp.
Wind and solar will provide about 4.5% of America's electricity this year or about 180 billion kilowatt-hours. And solar and wind electricity generation can barely now increase their combined year-over-year generation by 40 billion kilowatt-hours or enough for 4 million homes. In fact, they in combination have never done that but might come close this year.
If solar and wind were to increase their total production every year by 40 billion kilowatt-hours, it would take 95 years for wind and solar to generate 4 trillion kilowatt-hours or about what America will consume in 2013.
As readers of this blog know I am an advocate for solar and wind. I make these points not to minimize the growth of wind and solar or its importance. Again, they will together provide this year about 180 billion kilowatt-hours of power, 4.5% of America's total electricity, enough for 18 million homes. Those numbers matter and have grown enormously since 2003 when together wind and solar produced just about 11 billion kilowatt-hours.
I make these points not to minimize wind and solar but to drive home just how long it will take for them to provide the enormous amount of electricity that America now consumes.
Here are some more details.
This year wind will generate about 170 billion kilowatt-hours and solar 11 billion.
Moreover, wind will post its biggest ever annual increase--an additional 30 billion kilowatt-hours-- in production during 2013 to reach 170 billion kilowatt-hours from 140 billion in 2012. Since 2007, wind has several times boosted production by 20 billion kilowatt-hours year over year but never before by the 30 billion that is likely this year.
Solar is likely to increase its power production from 4 billion to 11 billion this year, a very strong gain and will almost certainly at some point regularly increase its electricity production by 20 billion kilowatt-hours per year.
Even if wind and solar increase their combined annual production by 50 billion kilowatt-hours per year, it would take 75 years for wind and solar to generate 4 trillion kilowatt-hours.
Remember this analysis also does not take into account that electricity consumption is projected to increase 1% per year of by 40 billion kilowatt-hours or more. Indeed, solar and wind will be doing incredibly well to produce each year enough additional power to supply 100% of the nation's increased yearly power needs. By doing so, wind and solar would provide approximately half of the power America consumes 72 years from today.
Claims that America can move rapidly to 100% wind and solar run straight into daunting math and often reflect a lack of understanding about the enormous amount of electricity that America consumes today.