The United States has made great strides in utilizing renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar) to provide reliable electricity. From 2007 to 2012, electricity from cleaner, more sustainable sources has nearly quadrupled in this country. Wind power more than tripled in the United States during that same time frame.
There is already infrastructure in place to transition over entirely to renewables. Now it’s time to employ smart policies and innovation to continue shifting to these renewable power sources in the coming years.
The electricity grid is a highly complex system connecting power sources to consumers. This vast machine is run by grid operators or balance authorities who are constantly matching up electricity supply and demand. Since renewable energy ebbs and flows depending on the sun and wind, this can pose a challenge when it comes to reliability. Thankfully, grid operators are used to dealing with this type of variability and uncertainty. They already have to make constant adjustments for changing demands, outages, and other events, so incorporating more and more renewables shouldn’t post much of a problem.
Conventional power plants have their own drawbacks and reliability issues. Many things can affect a plant’s ability to generate power, including sudden random outages, severe weather events, and extremely hot temperatures and droughts. Renewable resources are not as vulnerable to lengthy disruptions stemming from weather, safety issues, and other causes. Similarly, renewable plants are typically smaller and therefore, if they do go offline, the impact to the grid is minimal. Another perk to renewables is their price stability compared to fuel-powered plants.
Tools for Ramping-Up Renewable Energy
- Geographic dispersion: Assimilate renewable power sources over larger geographic areas to help smooth out interruptions and increase reliability.
- Better forecasting: Weather observations, meteorological data, and other information can help better project wind and solar output.
- Improved scheduling: Allow operators to schedule power delivery on a sub-hourly basis (rather than hourly or a day ahead) to make the grid more efficient, save money, and reduce emissions.
- Make power plants more flexible: Moving toward more flexible fossil fuel power plants is an easy way to integrate more variable renewable sources into an electricity grid.
- Building new transmission lines: New lines would make the electricity system more reliable and efficient, and enable wind power to displace facilities that cost more to operate.
- Managing customer demand: Offer more “demand-response” programs, which pay large customers to reduce their electricity use when demand is high.
- Using smart grid technologies: New technologies (sensing, communications, control, and power electronics) can increase efficiency and reliability and provide greater flexibility in controlling power flows, thus enabling plants to integrate large quantities of renewable power.
- Storage: Use a variety of storage solutions to manage grid variability over short time frames and store electricity.