Experts refute claims that renewables are unreliable and explore strategies for a reliable grid
In the wake of the devastating power outage in Texas during the winter storm of 2021, renewable energy sources were unfairly blamed for the failure of the electric grid. While wind facilities did underperform, experts argue that the primary cause of the outage was the failure of natural gas infrastructure. This incident highlights the need to dispel the misconception that renewables are intrinsically unreliable. In fact, renewable energy sources are crucial for reducing CO2 emissions and mitigating the effects of global warming. With proper planning and implementation of various strategies, grids can increase the use of renewables without sacrificing reliability.
Storing power to be used later
To manage the intermittent nature of renewables, grid planners employ various strategies. One such strategy is storing excess energy produced during peak production periods for later use. Giant lithium-ion batteries, similar to those found in electric cars and cell phones, are being rapidly deployed for this purpose. These batteries can store power for several hours, ensuring a continuous power supply even when renewable sources are not generating electricity. Other technologies, such as pumped storage hydropower, can store energy for longer durations and require fewer mined minerals than batteries.
Transmitting power to where it’s needed
Another option to address fluctuations in renewable power generation is the transmission of power from regions with surplus renewable energy to areas with high demand. By increasing transmission capacity and connecting different parts of the grid, excess solar power from the Southwest, for example, can support Eastern communities during peak demand. Large interconnected grids allow different types of renewables to work together, enhancing resource diversity and ensuring a more reliable power supply.
Leveraging complementary renewables
Resource diversity is a key strategy for maintaining a reliable grid. Wind and solar energy, both intermittent resources, can be used in tandem as they complement each other. When the sun is not shining, wind power is often available, and vice versa. By coordinating wind and solar energy across different regions or even within the same power plant, grid operators can smooth out fluctuations and ensure a more consistent electricity supply. Including other renewables like hydropower and geothermal power further enhances resource diversity and reduces the need for storage.
Incentivizing demand response
Reducing or shifting power demand is another crucial strategy for managing a grid dominated by renewables. Demand response initiatives incentivize consumers to use less power during times of peak demand or when renewable sources are producing less electricity. These programs can help align power consumption with the availability of renewable energy, ensuring a more balanced grid. Incentive-driven demand response programs have shown promising results in reducing peak demand and avoiding blackouts on fossil fuel-dominated grids.
Renewable energy sources are not inherently unreliable. The Texas power outage was primarily caused by the failure of natural gas infrastructure, not by renewables. With proper planning and implementation of strategies such as energy storage, transmission, resource diversity, and demand response, grids can increase the use of renewables without sacrificing reliability. The transition to a grid powered by 100% renewable energy is feasible, and researchers have proposed models that demonstrate its viability. However, the speed of this transition depends on various factors, including political will, economics, supply chain strength, policy decisions, and careful planning. By being smart about grid design and incorporating new technologies, we can build a reliable and sustainable low-carbon grid for future generations.