Will renewable energy destabilize the grid? Yale 360 ​​has the answer.

Modern version of Yale 360 It addresses the lies, distortions, and half-truths surrounding the question of whether renewable energy can provide a reliable source of electricity at all times or require “base load” reliability for thermal generation. We all obviously remember what the governor of Texas called foam in the mouth after a severe cold snapped that state’s power grid in 2021. He blamed the problem on the state’s presence of too much renewable energy.

Amory Lovins, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, refutes such misconceptions with a tool freely available to all – data. He’s using it to blow up 3 myths about renewable energy and the grid.

Myth 1: The grid based on renewable energy is unreliable

Lovins says the indicator most commonly used to describe network reliability is the average blackout duration experienced by each customer per year, a metric known as the Average System Interruption Interruption Index or SAIDI, and Germany is often cited as an example of a country with an uninterrupted network. stable. It gets about half of its electricity from renewable energy sources. However, its network is one of the most reliable with SAIDI only 0.25 hours in 2020. The United States, where both renewable and nuclear energy provide nearly 20% of electricity, Germany’s outage rate was 5 times higher – 1.28 hours in the year 2020.

Since 2006, Germany’s share of renewable energy has almost quadrupled, while its blackout rate has been almost halved. Likewise, the Texas grid has become more stable as its wind capacity has increased sixfold from 2007 to 2020. Today, Texas generates more wind energy—about a fifth of total electricity—than any other state in the United States. The data shows that renewables increase grid reliability, despite what the oil and gas lobby wants us to believe.

Myth #2: Fossil fuels are essential to network stability

Once again, the data gives a lie to this popular myth. Between 2010 and 2020, Germany’s generation of fossil fuels decreased by 130.9 TWh and nuclear generation decreased by 76.3 TWh. These declines were offset by 149.5 TWh of renewable energy. Another 38 TWh was saved due to energy saving strategies. As we saw above, through all these changes, the network in Germany has become more stable, not less. By 2020, Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions had fallen 42.3% below 1990 levels, exceeding the 40% target set in 2007. Carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector only fell from 315 million tons in 2010 to 185 million tons in year 2020.

In Japan, following multiple reactor meltdowns at Fukushima, more than 40 nuclear reactors have been shut down permanently or indefinitely without materially increasing fossil fuel generation or greenhouse gas emissions, Lovins reports. The provision of electricity and renewable energy actually made up for the entire loss, despite policies that suppressed renewables.

Myth #3: Renewable energy can’t meet round-the-clock demand

This is the favorite topic of the Fu news audience and the disgraced ex-president and it is pure nonsense of the first order. Lovins points out that all generation sources are disconnected some of the time either due to weather emergencies or due to routine maintenance. Nothing works all day, every day, all year long. Not all sources of electrical energy will be available at one time or another.

Network administrators have to deal with this reality, just as they have to deal with fluctuating demand. The influx of greater amounts of renewable energy does not alter this reality, even if the ways in which they deal with variance and uncertainty are changing.

Hydropower fluctuates with the amount of water available. Coal and methane supplies are not 100% reliable. Several outages in Texas in 2021 caused when diesel generators used by pipelines refused to start. French nuclear facilities were closed for an average of 96.2 days in 2019 due to “unavailability” or “forced unavailability”. That rose to 115.5 days in 2020. After a power outage in the northeastern states of the US in 2003, the sudden shutdown of nuclear generators caused nine reactors to almost stop producing power for several days. Many needed two weeks to return to full production.

Modern network operators (except in Texas where network operations are based on ideology rather than data) emphasize diversity and flexibility rather than nominally fixed but less flexible “baseload” generation sources. Diverse renewable portfolios do not fail as massively, permanently, or unexpectedly as large thermal power plants do. Lovins says that all thermal power plants are offline 7 to 12% of the time.

network mission

The purpose of the electrical network is not only to transmit and distribute electricity with fluctuating demand. It also has to manage intermittency at conventional fossil and nuclear plants. In the same way, the grid can quickly support wind and solar differences with other renewable energy sources, a task made easier by more accurate forecasting of weather and wind speeds. This, in turn, allows for better prediction of the outputs of different renewable energy sources.

Local or on-site renewables are more resilient because they largely or completely bypass the grid, where almost all blackouts start. Modern power electronics power South Australia’s grid with billions of watts in sun and wind only for days on end, with no coal, no hydro, no nuclear, and only the 4.4% natural gas generation required by the grid regulator. Hornsdale battery from Tesla She played an important role in making this possible.

Bypass the batteries

Energy storage, whether by batteries, compressed air, water, or other means, is a common topic in CleanTechnica. There is a general belief that the transition to renewable energy depends on it. But there are other, less expensive, carbon-free ways to deal with variable renewables besides giant batteries, Lovins suggests.

The first and most important is energy efficiency, which reduces demand, especially during periods of peak usage. More efficient buildings need less heating or cooling and their temperature changes more slowly so that they can fall longer on their heat energy and thus maintain comfort with less energy, especially during periods of peak load.

The second option is demand elasticity or demand response, which allows utility companies to compensate customers who reduce the amount of electricity they use on demand. Usually this is done automatically and imperceptibly. New technology like smart crusher plates It can allow this to happen automatically with little noticeable impact on clients. Many online EV chargers can also adjust the amount of electricity they save or convert charging times to off-peak hours when demand on the grid is low.

One recent study It found that the US has 200 gigawatts of cost-effective load flexibility potential to be achieved by 2030. Indeed, the recent power outages in California highlight the need to respond to demand, prompting the California Public Utilities Commission to create the emergency program to reduce pregnancy. To build on pre-order response efforts.

Another option for stabilizing the grid as renewable energy generation increases is geographical and technological diversity – onshore and offshore wind, solar panels, solar thermal, geothermal, pumped hydro, municipal, industrial or agricultural waste incineration. There are even new ideas like Double-sided vertical solar panels And the floating solar outside To fill renewable energy portfolios. The idea is simple: If, somewhere, one of these sources isn’t generating electricity at a certain point in time, chances are others will.

Vehicle-to-network technology can become an important part of the network installation process. Ford has already caused a surge in interest in V2G because it has done so Partnership with Sunrun To promote the idea for drivers of its electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck. Simulations show that air conditioning for ice storage in buildings as well as smart charging to and from the grid with electric vehicles could make it possible for Texas to use 100% renewable electricity in 2050 without the need for No storage batteries at all.

Even Europe, famous for its cold, bleak winters, may only need a few weeks of storage, based on the experience of many German and Belgian utility companies. This is a more rewarding challenge than many adherents of fossil fuels believe is possible.


The end result is simple, Lovins says. “Electric grids can handle much larger portions of renewable energy at no or modest cost. Some European countries with little or no hydropower actually get roughly half to three-quarters of their electricity from renewables with better grid reliability. Than it is in the US. It’s time to go beyond the myths.” Amen to that. Let the data do the talking, not the doomsday ones who are primarily concerned with covering their pockets, the environment will be damned.


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