Western US Grid Can Handle More Renewable Energy Than Previously Predicted
Photo: Flickr, CC
Solar and Wind Could Play a Much Bigger Role
A new study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado has found that the Western section of the U.S. power grid could handle up to about 35% renewables if properly integrated. That doesn't mean it would be simple, but it's a counter-arguments to those who think the grid can't handle much intermittent sources, and the NREL is definitely a credible source.
Photo: Flickr, CC
NREL considered a scenario in which 30 percent of the total electricity produced in a year in western states comes from wind turbines and 5 percent comes from solar power--mostly from solar thermal plants that generate power by concentrating sunlight to produce high temperatures and steam. [...]
The researchers found that one way to keep the number of new backup power plants to a minimum is to expand the geographical area that renewable energy is gathered from, says Debra Lew, the NREL project manager in charge of the study. [...] The NREL study estimated that drawing only on local resources would increase variability on the grid by a factor of 50. That's "a huge increase," Lew says, too big for a local utility to balance using backup power and other resources. If you aggregate resources over several states, the increase is less than a factor of two. (source)
This can be further improved by implementing more demand response. This means that utilities would contact some of their biggest customers during the few hours a year when they can't match demand and ask them to reduce their consumption (sometimes paying them to do it, which can be less expensive than building backup power plants). A smart grid with real-time pricing would also help shape demand.
The general concept isn't new, but it's always good to have studies confirming that it's a possibility and how far we can go. Of course, over 35% things are going to be more problematic, but by the time we get there we should have solved at least part of the storage problem, and the 3 U.S. grids should be better integrated.
If you want to better visualize what the Western U.S. grid looks like, check out this map.
Via NREL, Technology Review
More on Renewable Energy
Breakthrough: 'Light Pipes' Increase the Performance of Organic Solar Cells by More than 100%
Good Move! Google Invests $38.8 Million in Two North Dakota Wind Farms
Is Direct Drive the Future? Wind Turbines Without Gears are Lighter, Cheaper, More Reliable