Western U.S. Grid Can Handle More Renewables  

Posted by Big Gav in

Technology review has an article on a new study which says "35 percent of electricity could come from solar and wind without requiring new backup power plants" - Western U.S. Grid Can Handle More Renewables.

More than a third of the electricity in the western United States could come from wind and solar power without installing significant amounts of backup power. And most of this expansion of renewable energy could be done without installing new interstate transmission lines, according to a new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO. But the study says increasing the amount of renewables on the grid will require smart planning and cooperation between utilities.

The NREL findings provide a strong counterargument to the idea that the existing power grid is insufficient to handle increasing amounts of renewable power. As California and other states require utilities to use renewable sources for significant fractions of their electricity, some experts have warned that measures to account for the variability of wind and solar power could be costly. At the extreme, they speculated, every megawatt of wind installed could require a megawatt of readily available conventional power in case the wind stopped blowing. But the NREL findings, like other recent studies, suggest that the costs could be minimal, especially in the West.

"The studies are showing the costs are a lot lower than what people thought they were going to be," says Daniel Brooks, project manager for power delivery and utilization at the Electric Power Research Institute. Even if wind farms had to pay for the necessary grid upgrades and backup power themselves, they could still sell electricity at competitive rates, he says.

NREL considered a scenario in which 30 percent of the total electricity produced in a year in western states comes from wind turbines and 5 percent comes from solar power--mostly from solar thermal plants that generate power by concentrating sunlight to produce high temperatures and steam. The researchers assumed the solar thermal plants would have some form of heat storage, although not all planned plants do. The study used detailed data about wind speeds, solar irradiance, and the operation of the electrical grid. GE Energy researchers commissioned by NREL then used the data to simulate the impact of various scenarios for wind and solar power use.

The researchers found that one way to keep the number of new backup power plants to a minimum is to expand the geographical area that renewable energy is gathered from, says Debra Lew, the NREL project manager in charge of the study. If utilities can call on wind farms and solar power from several states, rather than just from the local area, a drop in wind in one area is likely to be offset by an increase in wind elsewhere, and solar panels shaded by clouds in one area will be offset by others in sunny areas.


Jenny   says 1:36 PM

YAY! More wind turbines and solar panels, please!

I'm a little confused by this. A previous NREL study found that solar thermal alone could replace all the coal power used in the west. Why only 5% from solar thermal, when there are 1000 GW potential in the southwest? That would require building new HVDC transmission. However, one of their sudies for the Western Governors Association found 300 GW potential for CSP near already existing power lines.
When it has heat storage, it is hardly what you would call intermittent energy.

There is also a study by the IEA.
"Mr. Tanaka concluded in noting that 'solar PV and CSP appear to be complementary more than competing. The firm capacity and flexibility of CSP plants will help grid operators integrate larger amounts of variable renewable electricity such as solar PV and wind power'."


This last statement assumes heat storage obviously.

The IEA also said: "The IEA expects CSP to become competitive for peak and mid-peak loads by 2020 in the sunniest places if appropriate policies are adopted. Its further expansion will depend on the development of dedicated transport lines that will bring CSP electricity to a greater number of large consumption centres. Thanks to thermal storage, CSP can produce electricity around the clock and will become competitive with base load power by 2025 to 2030."

WGA study of CSP


Brighter than a Hundred Suns:
Solar Power for the Southwest


Solar thermal and heat storage

Profit Maximization
Energy storage allows the plant operator to maximize profits. During periods of
low hourly power prices, the operator can forgo generation and dump heat into
storage; and at times of high prices, the plant can run at full capacity even
without sun.

Peak Shaving
Solar generating capacity with heat storage can make other capacity in the
market unnecessary. With heat storage the solar plant is able to shave the
peak load.

Reducing Intermittence
The ability of thermal solar plants to use heat energy storage to keep electric
output constant: (1) reduces the cost associated with uncertainty surrounding
power production; and (2) relieves concerns regarding electrical interconnection
fees, regulation service charges, and transmission tariffs.

Increasing Plant Utilization
Solar plants equipped with heat storage have the ability to increase overall
annual generation levels by spreading out solar radiation to better match
plant capacity.


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