More Renewables Online
Renewable energy resources,
like wind and solar, are abundant, homegrown, and emissions-free
and have the potential to help lead the nation toward energy
Unfortunately, today's infrastructure is unable to maximize
the benefits of significantly more renewable resources. Wind
and solar resources are connected to the grid as "one-off"
solutions that are generally not integrated with other generation
nor optimized as a reliable first-tier energy source.
Additionally, when renewable resources are producing electricity,
the possibility of congestion on transmission lines can create
a barrier to their full utilization. The variability of renewable
sources can also cause challenges. And when renewables are
offline—when the wind doesn't blow or it's a cloudy
day— other power generation will be needed to fill in
Without infrastructure expansion and changes to the way the
power system is operated, it will be difficult for the U.S.
to produce more than 30% of its electricity (the target percentage
for many states) from variable renewable energy resources,
such as wind and solar.
The Variability of Renewable Power
Wind and solar power are inherently variable, meaning sometimes
the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. Then what?
Fortunately, smart grid technologies can help manage the unpredictability
of wind and solar to help alleviate reliability and stability
issues caused by power fluctuations. This will become increasingly
important as more wind and solar power is connected to the
Automated demand response technologies will act as a lever
that utilities can pull to help lower demand in the event
there is a gap in renewable power generation—for instance,
if the wind stops blowing. To address such contingencies,
a utility may incent consumers to opt into programs that allow
certain devices (i.e., water heaters) to be temporarily switched
off during peak times.
In the future, storage technologies could also help utilities
manage the short-term imbalances in the supply and demand
of energy, sometimes caused by the fluctuations of a lot of
renewable energy. Batteries will store energy during times
of excess wind energy production and discharge that energy
via smart grid automation technologies when energy demand
In some parts
of the country, overburdened power lines make it difficult
to move electricity from wind farms into the grid for consumption.
There have been cases when wind farms are forced to shut down—even
when the wind is blowing—because there is no capacity
available in the lines for the electricity they create.
Without adequate transmission to transport power from "renewable"
rich areas (like Arizona) to densely populated areas, it is
only cost effective to use renewable sources in certain areas
of the country—at least for now.
While building new infrastructure would certainly help, smart
grid technologies can also help utilities alleviate grid congestion
and maximize the potential of our current infrastructure.
Smart grid technologies can help provide real-time readings
of the power line, enabling utilities to maximize flow through
those lines and help alleviate congestion.
As smart grid technologies become more widespread, the electrical
grid will be made more efficient, helping reduce issues of
congestion. Sensors and controls will help intelligently reroute
power to other lines when necessary, accommodating energy
from renewable sources, so that power can be transported greater
distances, exactly where it's needed.
Traditionally, electricity has flowed
one way, from a power station to a customer. However, as more
energy is generated by alternative sources, power will be
entering the network from multiple locations, including the
generation). These sources are often cleaner or more efficient;
for example, combined heat and power plants (CHP) are more
than 75% efficient, compared to traditional generation, which
is only 49% efficient on average.1
Unfortunately, the current grid was not designed with multi-directional
power flow in mind. Two-way power flow, sophisticated controls,
and grid automation
technologies can help bring wind, solar and other alternative
energy solutions safely into the
distribution grid and move it where it's needed, when
In some regions, individuals can contribute to energy production
on the distribution grid by generating electricity at their
home—for example, solar on rooftops. Where available,
incents consumers to sell power back to the grid during peak
pricing hours—so, consumers make money, and utilities
are able to better manage peak demand. Whole neighborhoods
could become solar or wind generation plants, introducing
excess power back into the grid to meet demand.