• Deputy Assistant Administrator for Laboratories and Cooperative Institutes and Director
  • Earth System Research Laboratory
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Place: Hager Auditorium, Museum of the Rockies
Time: 7 p.m.

Title: Feasibility of a Predominant Wind and Solar Energy System in the United States

Sponsoring department: Earth Sciences


There are several compelling reasons why the US should reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, and decrease the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A study was done to determine the characteristics of large-scale wind and solar energy generation for the US 48 states. The study used advanced techniques to determine how well a predominant wind and solar energy system would work, how much it could reduce US dependence on fossil fuels, and how much such a system would reduce release of greenhouse gases. The hypothetical system used existing natural gas power plants as a backup when wind and solar fall short of national electric demand. The results showed that three geographic areas able to supply US electric demand: solar power in southern California, wind generation on the western Great Plains, and wind off the US east coast. By generation of wind and solar energy in a large diverse geographic domain, the difficulties of variability and uncertainty of wind and solar power are greatly reduced, while providing a large reduction of greenhouse gas release.

About the speaker:

Dr. Alexander E. (Sandy) MacDonald directs NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory and also serves as Deputy Assistant Administrator for Research Laboratories and Cooperative Institutes, positions he has held since they were both created in 2006. Dr. MacDonald, a meteorologist, previously led NOAA’s Forecast Systems Laboratory, which is now ESRL’s Global Systems Division. He is widely published in the fields of atmospheric modeling, statistics, dynamics, and meteorological systems. Dr. MacDonald has received numerous awards, including three Presidential Rank Awards and a Gold Medal. He also holds the patent for Science on a Sphere™, a luminous, animated globe installed in museums around the world to educate the public about Earth and other planets. Dr. MacDonald earned a Ph.D. and M.S. in Meteorology from the University of Utah, and is a former Air Force officer.