A new study adds to the large body of studies and real-world grid operating experience showing that large amounts of renewable energy can be reliably integrated into utility systems, while also producing significant benefits for consumers and the environment. The report, entitled “Meeting Load with a Resource Mix Beyond Business as Usual” and prepared by Synapse Energy Economics for the Civil Society Institute, builds on work done by those groups two years ago that indicated that the transition to clean energy would reduce consumer energy costs by $83 billion, in addition to greatly reducing air pollution and water use.
The new report used wind and solar output datasets developed as part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Eastern and Western renewable integration studies, to model how the power system would operate with a cleaner fuel mix in 2030 and 2050. Without even using technologies such as demand response and renewable energy forecasting, the study found that current electric reliability would be maintained at current levels in all hours of the year in the study scenario of wind and solar providing around 37% of the electricity on the power system.
Wind energy provided more than 20 percent of the electricity in Iowa and South Dakota last year, and more than 10 percent in seven other states. Xcel Energy’s Colorado utility system has frequently obtained more than 55% of its electricity from wind energy, the main grid in Texas has gone as high as 32%, and the utility system in Portugal has gone above 90% on some occasions. Dozens of wind integration studies in the U.S. and Europe have found that wind energy can provide more than 40% of total electricity on an annual basis without any reliability concerns.
The report and the presentations that were given on Wednesday’s webinar also explained that transmission is a critical tool for making power systems flexible, and that so-called "baseload" resources are typically highly inflexible and actually make renewable integration more difficult. The presentations also refuted common myths about the reliability of wind energy, such as the claim that wind energy needs 1:1 backup.
In releasing the report, Grant Smith, senior energy analyst with the Civil Society Institute, said: "This study shows that the U.S. electricity grid could integrate and balance many times the current level of renewables with no additional reliability issues. Recent improvements in both renewable technologies themselves and in the technologies that are used to control and balance the grid have been proceeding at a rapid pace, and the incentives and rewards for success in this area continue to drive substantial progress. In contrast, the alternative–continuing to rely on increasing combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity, and producing ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases–is far less feasible, and presents much more daunting technical, economic, and social challenges to human and environmental welfare. In comparison, the challenge of integrating increasing levels of solar and wind power on the U.S. power grids requires only incremental improvements in technology and operational practices."
Report co-author Dr. Thomas Vitolo, analyst with Synapse Energy Economics, added: "Put simply, the message today is this: It is a myth to say that the United States cannot rely on renewables for the bulk of its electricity generation. This study finds that the projected mixes, based entirely on existing technology and operational practices, are capable of balancing projected load in 2030 and 2050 for each region–in nearly every hour of every season of the year."
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