The United States could definitely sustain itself beyond fossil fuels. However, it really seems like the answer will be a definite no, because it appears we still want to try to sustain ourselves with mostly fossil fuels. Eventually their costs will go up as the low hanging fruit is converted to even more excess CO2. And global warming will become an exponential threat. Every decade will see greater damage, till eventually, we might not even be able to feed ourselves. Of course, the world will have to use better agricultural techniques to remove much of it, convert large amounts of deserts into biofuels crops that create new CO2 sucking soil and for burning for energy while practising bio-CCS.
Even during the supposed energy crises, we did not opt to re-invent the meltdown proof reactor (links below). Now, it’s probably too late because of all the evil and greedy politicians that no longer have the best interests of the country they were sworn in to protect at heart. Republicans used to like nuclear. Now, both sides don’t want to do anything but a token gesture. Obama helped out with solar, although failing miserably with Solaria, an honest 600 million dollar mistake?
I see our lousy transition efforts from fossil fuels (FF) as just causing further political polarization. Why is it that the Dems which supposedly want 100% renewable energy not causing a furious “debate” over it? Why are other, lesser, issues eclipsing the action needed. Why is it that environmentalists also do not want large scale wind, solar and nuclear? Why do these people say “global warming” and then shout against large scale clean energy? Doesn’t make any sense!
Some people really believe that we can’t transition from FF, however, the Federal government could make it such that the U.S. could properly and efficiently transition from FFs.
If you, I and everybody else wanted it!
They might not know how to just yet but they do know that they would succeed if that was to be their goal. They could initiate a few hundred billion dollar war effort style research and development campaign not unlike the building of 300,000 warplanes in less than half a decade, seventy years ago, and landing men on the Moon half a century ago to simply re-invent the molten salt reactor, or other efficient reactor, to be mass produced by private enterprise and to perfect battery technology for use in ALL vehicles and heavy equipment.
France did the nuclear thing, almost half a century ago!
Gloss over these links and you’ll see why we might not have a bright future…
Solar power potential
To power the U.S with solar would require about 4.4x more than what environmentalists think (always stated at 10,000 sq mi). We use almost 100 quadrillion Btu. If converted to electricity, about 29 trillion kWh (or 29 PWh).
We know that about 2/3rds of this energy is wasted in the conversion into electricity and mobility due to the confines of thermodynamics. So, we can reduce this number by that much to find the amount of solar panels needed.
10 trillion kWh over the course of 1 year is equal to 1.15 TW. The actual capacity is 1.075 TW so, we can figure on 1 TW for now.
Some might be tempted to say “just install 1 TW of solar”. However, that would only produce about 25% of that (usually less)! In winter, the capacity factor is down and in the summer, up. Large PV farms have got 25%, so, we’ll go with that.
Therefore, we need 4 TW plus extra for inefficiency of storage. Pumped Hydro is between 60 and 90% eff (will say 75% round trip).
So we need 5.3 TW of solar. However, we really can’t store much of that energy using PH because it would literally require thousands of very large dam projects.
The battery revolution is coming and their roundtrip eff should be in the 90% range so back down to 4.5 TW. At 25 sq km/GW (based on solar farm in India), that would require almost 115,000 sq km or about 44,000 square miles. The U.S. is about 3.8 million sq mi in area, and thus, solar alone, would require 1/86th of the land.
The rooftop potential of the U.S. is figured at 1,118 GW by NREL thus, we would need to use less than 1% of the land in addition to all the solar quality roofs to power everything!
Of course, this doesn’t include other losses like from inverters and powerlines. However, I didn’t deduct energy requirements for refining crude oil and shipping gas, either. We could need more energy in the future as the population increases and uses energy for as of yet unknown reasons and for CO2 removal, despite potential efficiency gains. Electric car eff has already been figured in when I cut the total energy use by two thirds.
Despite previous predictions, solar is NOT experiencing exponential growth in the U.S. However, Florida Power and Light is to install at least 10 GW of solar by 2030alone! So, it’s hard to tell if America really wants to sustain itself when global warming gets so bad that there will become international law against fossil fuels. The following img looks to be more of a linear growth, unfortunately.
At about $1/W, we can figure about $4.50 for a “24/7 watt”, or around $4.5 trillion dollars for above stated installations. Plus storage. Eeuu!
Tesla’s batteries are forecast to be as low as $60/kWh in 2023. Let’s say that with installation costs, they get it down to $100/kWh. We’ll need to store for a day providing interconnection across the whole country to overcome local storms. We’ll need to put 75% of a day’s worth of solar into batteries. 25% (the capacity factor of solar) of a day is 6 hours. 6 x 4.5 TW is 27 and that x .75 is just over 20 TWh. At $100/kWh, that should cost 2 trillion dollars.
For comparison, that’s almost exactly 1/3rd of the US’ gross domestic product, about 13 national highway systems and a bit more thanthe Iraq war, at about 4–5 trillion. I’m sure it could be done over twenty years, and replaced every thirty years. The batteries last for about 5,000 cycles,or about 13 years, discharged once per day. Can we afford to do that too? Is this the only clean choice? There’s wind, and lots of it, however, it will not back solar. This can reduce the need for storage, slightly.
Grand total for 50 years: $15.2 trillion plus interest
And that’s just for one large country! If we were to do the nuclear option, the costs should be down to below $5 trillion assuming safety and security costs are added to much cheaper mass produced units which last for 50 years.
Solar can power the United States with storage using just 1% of the land
French style nuclear could have powered the world since the 1970’s for 50 years until the solar/storage revolution in 2020. However…
Nuclear would cost at least 3x less for the next 50 years!
We can have better nuclear. We do have better material designs and better ways of making molten salt reactors. Consider the “ordinary” molten salt reactor for a moment, where the fuel is in the mix. Eventually, much of the entire periodic table of elements will want to plate to the heat exchanger. Doable, but not good for long term capital. Now, consider putting the molten salt fuel mix in rods, just like conventional reactors, except having a different mix of molten salt (like table salt) as the coolant. Now, we don’t have all the fission products trying to clog the heat exchanger. They are inside the zirconium clad fuel salt rods. Still, there might be a corrosion issue, however, the tank is now rad free (rad is in the tubes). Now, all the parts can be replaced with little or no rad issues. Also, permitters really don’t like the idea of the process of fission going on everywhere in the tank, around heat exchangers and through pumps… The below videos explains this better technology.
Conclusion: Daytime solar and intermittent wind backed with load following stable salt reactors instead of being backed by fossil fuels
57 Views from quora as of almost a day after I wrote it. The whole thing is copied from there to here.