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

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) speaks during the North American Building Trades Unions Conference at the Washington Hilton April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. Zach Gibson / Getty Images

Colorado senator and 2020 hopeful Michael Bennet introduced his plan to combat climate change Monday, in the first major policy rollout of his campaign. Bennet's plan calls for the establishment of a "Climate Bank," using $1 trillion in federal spending to "catalyze" $10 trillion in private spending for the U.S. to transition entirely to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Read More Show Less
Foto-Rabe / Pixabay

When Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan in August 2018, its own estimates said the reduced regulations could lead to 1,400 early deaths a year from air pollution by 2030.

Now, the EPA wants to change the way it calculates the risks posed by particulate matter pollution, using a model that would lower the death toll from the new plan, The New York Times reported Monday. Five current or former EPA officials familiar with the plan told The Times that the new method would assume there is no significant health gain by lowering air pollution levels below the legal limit. However, many public health experts say that there is no safe level of particulate matter exposure, which has long been linked to heart and lung disease.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A crate carrying one of the 33 lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Columbia is lifted onto the back of a lorry before being transported to a private reserve on April 30, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Animal welfare advocates are praising soon-to-be introduced legislation in the U.S. that would ban the use of wild animals in traveling circuses.

Read More Show Less
A tornado Monday in Union City, Oklahoma. TicToc by Bloomberg / YouTube screenshot

Extreme weather spawned 18 tornadoes across five states Monday, USA Today reported. Tornadoes were reported in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arizona, but were not as dangerous as forecasters had initially feared, the Associated Press reported.

Read More Show Less
A woman walks in front of her water-logged home in Sriwulan village, Sayung sub-district of Demak regency, Central Java, Indonesia on Feb. 2, 2018. Siswono Toyudho / Anadolu Agency /Getty Images

A new study has more than doubled the worst-case-scenario projection for sea level rise by the end of the century, BBC News reported Monday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Matt Cardy / Stringer / Getty Images

The Guardian is changing the way it writes about environmental issues.

Read More Show Less
Blueberry yogurt bark. SEE D JAN / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Having nutritious snacks to eat during the workday can help you stay energized and productive.

Read More Show Less
A 2017 flood in Elk Grove, California. Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources

By Tara Lohan

It's been the wettest 12 months on record in the continental United States. Parts of the High Plains and Midwest are still reeling from deadly, destructive and expensive spring floods — some of which have lasted for three months.

Mounting bills from natural disasters like these have prompted renewed calls to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which is managed by Federal Emergency Management Agency and is now $20 billion in debt.

Read More Show Less