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

Slowing deforestation, planting more trees, and cutting emissions of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases like methane could cut another 0.5 degrees C or more off global warming by 2100. South_agency / E+ / Getty Images

By Dana Nuccitelli

Killer hurricanes, devastating wildfires, melting glaciers, and sunny-day flooding in more and more coastal areas around the world have birthed a fatalistic view cleverly dubbed by Mary Annaïse Heglar of the Natural Resources Defense Council as "de-nihilism." One manifestation: An increasing number of people appear to have grown doubtful about the possibility of staving-off climate disaster. However, a new interactive tool from a climate think tank and MIT Sloan shows that humanity could still meet the goals of the Paris agreement and limit global warming.

Read More
A baby burrowing owl perched outside its burrow on Marco Island, Florida. LagunaticPhoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Burrowing owls, which make their homes in small holes in the ground, are having a rough time in Florida. That's why Marco Island on the Gulf Coast passed a resolution to pay residents $250 to start an owl burrow in their front yard, as the Marco Eagle reported.

Read More
Sponsored
Amazon and other tech employees participate in the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice continue to protest today. Karen Ducey / Getty Images

Hundreds of Amazon workers publicly criticized the company's climate policies Sunday, showing open defiance of the company following its threats earlier this month to fire workers who speak out on climate change.

Read More
Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach at Lerata village, near Archers Post in Samburu county, approximately 186 miles north of Nairobi, Kenya on Jan. 22. "Ravenous swarms" of desert locusts in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia threaten to ravage the entire East Africa subregion, the UN warned on Jan. 20. TONY KARUMBA / AFP / Getty Images

East Africa is facing its worst locust infestation in decades, and the climate crisis is partly to blame.

Read More
The Antarctic Peninsula on Feb. 28, 2019. Daniel Enchev / Flickr

By Dan Morgan

Antarctica is the remotest part of the world, but it is a hub of scientific discovery, international diplomacy and environmental change. It was officially discovered 200 years ago, on Jan. 27, 1820, when members of a Russian expedition sighted land in what is now known as the Fimbul Ice Shelf on the continent's east side.

Read More