Latest release Yale 360 It combats the lies, distortions and half-truths surrounding the question of whether renewable energy can always provide a reliable source of electricity, or whether it requires a heat-generating “base load” capability to be reliable. We all vividly remember the Texas governor frothing at the mouth in 2021 after bitter cold weather knocked that state’s power grid offline. He blamed the problem on the state’s abundance of 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 that is free for anyone to use: data. He uses it to explode 3 myths about renewable energy and the grid.
Myth #1: A grid based on renewable energy is unreliable
Lovins says the most commonly used metric to describe grid reliability is the average duration of power outages each customer experiences in a year, a metric known as the System Average Outage Duration Index, or SAIDI, with Germany a country that shows the reliability of frequent power outages. shown as an example. unstable network. It gets about half of its electricity from renewable energy sources. However, its network is one of the most reliable with a SAIDI of just 0.25 hours in 2020. The United States, where renewables and nuclear power each provide about 20% of its electricity, had five times as many outages as Germany – 1.28 hours in 2020.
Since 2006, the renewable share of Germany’s electricity generation has nearly quadrupled, while blackouts have almost halved. Similarly, the Texas grid became more stable as wind capacity increased sixfold from 2007 to 2020. Today, Texas produces more wind power than any other state in the United States—nearly one-fifth of all electricity. The data shows that despite what the oil and gas lobby would have us believe, renewables increase grid reliability.
Myth #2: Fossil Fuels Are Needed to Stabilize the Grid
The data once again disproves this popular myth. Between 2010 and 2020, Germany’s production from fossil fuels decreased by 130.9 TWt, and nuclear production by 76.3 TWt/h. These reductions were offset by 149.5 TWh of renewable energy. A further 38 TWh were saved thanks to energy saving strategies. As we have seen above, as a result of all these changes, the network in Germany has become more stable, not less. By 2020, Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions will fall 42.3% below 1990 levels, surpassing the 40% target set in 2007. Carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector alone fell from 315 million tons in 2010 to 185 million tons.
In Japan, more than 40 nuclear reactors have been shut down permanently or indefinitely, without significantly increasing fossil fuel production or greenhouse gas emissions, since the meltdown of multiple reactors in Fukushima, Lovins says. Electricity conservation and renewable energy have made up for virtually all of the loss, despite policies suppressing renewables.
Myth #3: Renewable energy cannot meet demand 24/7
It’s a favorite of the Faux News crowd and the disgraced former president, and it’s pure A-grade flattery. Lovins notes that ALL generating sources go offline at times, either due to weather emergencies or routine maintenance. None of them work all day, every day, year round. All sources of electricity will be unavailable at one time or another.
Network managers must deal with this reality as they face changing demand. Even if the methods of dealing with volatility and uncertainty change, the influx of greater amounts of renewable energy does not change this reality.
Hydropower varies with the amount of water available. Coal and methane supply is not 100% reliable. In 2021, many outages in Texas caused the diesel generators used by the electric pipelines to fail to start. France’s nuclear facilities were closed for an average of 96.2 days in 2019 due to “planned” or “forced unavailability”. This increased to 115.5 days in 2020. In 2003, after a blackout in the northeastern United States, a sudden shutdown of a nuclear generator caused nine reactors to produce almost no power for several days. Most took two weeks to return to full production.
Modern network operators (with the exception of Texas, where network operations are based on ideology rather than data) emphasize diversity and flexibility over nominally stable but less flexible “baseload” generation sources. Diversified renewable energy portfolios do not fail as massively, continuously or unexpectedly as large thermal power plants. Lovins says that all heat generating stations are offline 7-12% of the time.
A Grid Mission
The purpose of the power grid is not only to transmit and distribute electricity as demand changes. It must also manage the interruptions of traditional fossil and nuclear plants. Likewise, the grid can rapidly support wind and solar changes with other renewable energy sources, made easier by more accurate weather and wind speed forecasting. This, in turn, allows us to better predict the production of various renewable energy sources.
Local or on-site renewable energy sources are even more sustainable because they largely or completely bypass the grid from which almost all power lines originate. Modern power electronics have powered South Australia’s billion-watt grid for days on nothing but solar and wind, with coal, hydro, nuclear and just 4.4% natural gas generation required by the grid regulator. Hornsdale battery Tesla was instrumental in making this possible.
Energy storage by batteries, compressed air, hydro or other means is a common theme CleanTechnica. There is a general perception that the transition to renewable energy depends on it. Lovins suggests that there are cheaper carbon-free ways to tackle variable renewables than giant batteries.
First and foremost is energy efficiency, which reduces demand especially during peak usage periods. More efficient buildings need less heating or cooling and change their temperature more slowly so they can coast on their thermal capacity for longer and thus provide comfort with less energy, especially during peak load periods.
The second option is demand flexibility, or demand response, which allows utility companies to compensate customers who reduce the amount of electricity they use on demand. This is usually done automatically and imperceptibly. New technology, such as smart cutting panels, can allow this to happen automatically with little noticeable impact to customers. Many internet EV chargers can also adjust the amount of electricity they deliver or shift charging times to off-peak hours when demand on the grid is low.
One recent study found that the United States has 200 gigawatts of affordable load flexibility potential that could be realized by 2030. In fact, California’s recent power outages highlight the need to respond, prompting the California Public Utilities Commission to establish a State of Emergency. Load Reduction Program to build on previous demand response efforts.
Another option for stabilizing the grid as renewable energy production increases is both geographical and technological diversity – onshore and offshore wind, solar panels, solar thermal, geothermal, pumped water, domestic, industrial or agricultural waste incineration. There are also new ideas such as vertical bifacial solar panels and offshore floating solar to fill renewable energy portfolios. The idea is simple: If one of these sources doesn’t produce electricity at a given location, chances are some of them will.
Vehicle-to-grid technology can become an important part of the grid stabilization process. Ford is already fueling interest in V2G as it partners with Sunrun to promote the idea to drivers of its F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck. Simulations show that smart charging to and from the grid with ice-storage air conditioners in buildings and electric vehicles could make it possible for Texas to run on 100% renewable electricity in 2050 without needing it. any storage batteries.
Even Europe, famous for its cold dark winters, may require only a few weeks of storage, based on the experience of several German and Belgian utility companies. This is a much more possible problem than many fossil fuel advocates believe possible.
Lovins says the bottom line is simple. “Power grids can deal with larger portions of renewable energy at zero or modest cost. Some European countries with little or no hydropower already get about half to three-quarters of their electricity from renewables, with better grid reliability than the United States. Amen to that. Environment be damned, information be damned, not harbingers of doom who are primarily busy lining their own pockets.
Do you value CleanTechnica’s originality and clean tech news? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Tech or Ambassador, or a Patron on Patreon.