Return on Renewables

Study says renewable energy in the South will pay off if it’s done right.
By Anna Austin | March 21, 2011

A report jointly released by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University says that the South could pay less for its electricity than what current forecasts predict in 20 years if it invests in more renewable energy.

That is, with the right mix of public policies. If done right, the region could produce as much as 30 percent—up from less than 4 percent—of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, the study finds.

Titled “Renewable Energy in the South” the report’s authors build on a policy brief released last summer and provide an in-depth assessment of the scope of renewable energy resources in the South and their economic impacts on electricity rates and utility bills in the region.

Co-lead researcher, Marilyn Brown of GIT, says there are a few reasons for the potential lower electricity rates relative to the business-as-usual National Energy Modeling System forecast.
First, the report assumes some incremental technology improvements for several renewable energy resources including combined heat and power, biomass and solar, which bring down costs, as well as implementation of a renewable energy standard. “We also assume updated wind and hydro resources, which are more expansive than in the NEMS forecast,” Brown says. “That brings on a great deal of cost-effective wind and hydro.”

Third, the researchers introduce a great deal of combined heat and power and other end-use renewables that result in a significant reduction in electricity use relative to the NEMS forecast, which drives down rates. “We also assume that investment tax credits are extended, which moves some costs from the ratepayer to the taxpayer,” Brown says, adding that it is important to note that rates do rise in the report’s renewable energy scenario, but just not as much.

—Anna Austin