Quantcast

Is the U.S. Electric Grid Ready for a Renewable Energy Future?

Business

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

From mayors to college students, the pool of people who want the U.S. to fully embrace renewable energy keeps growing—along with the amount of goals for our use of wind and solar power.

Several states have solar and wind power goals in mind for the future, but can the grid handle them? That's a question scientists at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) say must be answered if the nation could significantly replace coal, oil and natural gas with renewables.

Douglas Arent, the executive director of the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis at NREL, told NPR that "you could meet demand every hour of the year, with up to 80 percent of [power] coming from renewable resources by the middle of the century," but the nation's infrastructure simply isn't ready.

"The grid would have to be much more flexible," Arent said. "The utility model of the future would have to look different. And of course, in the ... economically ideal case, we would build much more transmission."

That need is part of what led to California regulators passing the nation's first energy storage mandate, requiring utilities like PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to expand their capacity to store electricity, including solar and wind energy. Those three investor-owned utilities must collectively buy 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage capacity by the end of 2020. That amount is nearly enough to supply 1 million homes with energy.

"The decision lays out an energy storage procurement policy guided by three principles: Optimization of the grid, integration of renewable energy and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions," California Utilities Commissioner Carla Peterman told the San Jose Mercury News.

Meanwhile, Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, who also sits on the board of grid overseer, the California Independent System Operator, was a little more blunt in describing the problem.

"We are getting to the point where we will have to pay people not to produce power," he told the Los Angeles Times.

Foster said he has been working with other regulators and utility executives to redesign the system, developing mapping and building ideas for networks of electrical lines, solar and plants and backup natural gas plants that can keep the lights on when the weather impacts the flow of renewable energy. They also want to avoid blackouts and better prepare themselves for the grid's unpredictable nature.

"The grid was not built for renewables," NREL senior analyst Trieu Mai said.

The U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees NREL, is using a supercomputer named Peregrine that "does a quadrillion calculations per second to help scientists figure out how to keep the lights on," the Los Angeles Times observed.

While the computing continues, activists, academics, regulators and industry types will continue their own search for answer. Arent said the results of a study he co-wrote with the 80-percent target in mind says the resources are available to reach such a goal. It's just the grid that needs plenty of careful analysis in the coming years.

"What we found was that there were many pathways, and there wasn't a red flag that said it was impossible, at least at the level that we looked at it," he said.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signs the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule on June 19, replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that would have reduced coal-fired plant carbon emissions. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency / Twitter

By Elliott Negin

On July 8, President Trump hosted a White House event to unabashedly tout his truly abysmal environmental record. The following day, coincidentally, marked the one-year anniversary of Andrew Wheeler at the helm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), first as acting administrator and then as administrator after the Senate confirmed him in late February.

Read More Show Less
A timber sale in the Kaibab National Forest. Dyan Bone / Forest Service / Southwestern Region / Kaibab National Forest

By Tara Lohan

If you're a lover of wilderness, wildlife, the American West and the public lands on which they all depend, then journalist Christopher Ketcham's new book is required — if depressing — reading.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
Somalians fight against hunger and lack of water due to drought as Turkish Ambassador to Somalia, Olgan Bekar (not seen) visits the a camp near the Mogadishu's rural side in Somalia on March 25, 2017. Sadak Mohamed / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

World hunger is on the rise for the third consecutive year after decades of decline, a new United Nations (UN) report says. The climate crisis ranks alongside conflict as the top cause of food shortages that force more than 821 million people worldwide to experience chronic hunger. That number includes more than 150 million children whose growth is stunted due to a lack of food.

Read More Show Less
Eduardo Velev cools off in the spray of a fire hydrant during a heatwave on July 1, 2018 in Philadelphia. Jessica Kourkounis / Getty Images

By Adrienne L. Hollis

Because extreme heat is one of the deadliest weather hazards we currently face, Union of Concerned Scientist's Killer Heat Report for the U.S. is the most important document I have read. It is a veritable wake up call for all of us. It is timely, eye-opening, transparent and factual and it deals with the stark reality of our future if we do not make changes quickly (think yesterday). It is important to ensure that we all understand it. Here are 10 terms that really help drive home the messages in the heat report and help us understand the ramifications of inaction.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Senator Graham returns after playing a round of golf with Trump on Oct. 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Ron Sachs – Pool / Getty Images

Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Senate Republican who has been a close ally of Donald Trump, did not mince words last week on the climate crisis and what he thinks the president needs to do about it.

Read More Show Less
A small Bermuda cedar tree sits atop a rock overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. todaycouldbe / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Marlene Cimons

Kyle Rosenblad was hiking a steep mountain on the island of Maui in the summer of 2015 when he noticed a ruggedly beautiful tree species scattered around the landscape. Curious, and wondering what they were, he took some photographs and showed them to a friend. They were Bermuda cedars, a species native to the island of Bermuda, first planted on Maui in the early 1900s.

Read More Show Less
krisanapong detraphiphat / Moment / Getty Images

By Grace Francese

You may know that many conventional oat cereals contain troubling amounts of the carcinogenic pesticide glyphosate. But another toxic pesticide may be contaminating your kids' breakfast. A new study by the Organic Center shows that almost 60 percent of the non-organic milk sampled contains residues of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide scientists say is unsafe at any concentration.

Read More Show Less