CLAIM: Renewable energy is unreliable and must be continually backed up by fossil fuels for times when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.
Renewable energy is more than capable of providing steady, reliable electricity for consumers in a variety of scenarios. As storage technology advances, any remaining challenges with constant output will soon become a thing of the past.
- According to a study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “the integration of 35% wind and solar energy into the electric power system will not require extensive infrastructure if changes are made to operational practices” (such as forecasting and scheduling). (Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, http://1.usa.gov/WpTHFj)
- Several techniques are used to mitigate the variability challenges of renewable resources. For example, frequent scheduling of generation and interchanges reduces the need for continuously-running fossil fuel reserves. Additionally, “increasing the size of the geographic area over which the wind and solar resources are drawn from substantially reduces variability.” (Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, http://1.usa.gov/WpTHFj)
- Renewable energy resources can minimize the need for fossil backup in by feeding into a larger regional grid. For example, the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO) is the regional grid for all or part of 15 Midwestern states. MISO gets 14% of its power from renewable energy alone, but since grid reliability is spread out across the 15-state footprint, “the wind not blowing” at select sites is negated by production across the grid. (Source: Grist, http://bit.ly/KoJzGS; Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, http://bit.ly/Y64kuL)
- Renewable energy is already serving as a significant source of power in many states without issue. South Dakota – the fifth best wind resource in the country – generated over 22% of its electricity in 2011 from wind power alone. (Source: American Wind Energy Association, http://bit.ly/14A0YnW)
- Denmark is proving that widespread renewable energy resources, coupled with engineering and technological advances, can safely fulfill large portions of the nation’s electricity requirements. For 2011, renewables covered more than 40% of Denmark’s electricity consumption. (Source: Danish Energy Agency, http://bit.ly/UC7h7T)
- Advanced storage options are varied and still developing. We may soon see a combination of large scale energy storage by heat; by pumped hydroelectric or compressed air: by stationary batteries designed for the grid, or by national balancing of regional generation deficits and excesses using long distance transmission. A study from the American Physical Society reports that “Variability is likely to be met by a combination of these three solutions, and the interactions among them and the appropriate mix needs to be explored. (Source: American Physical Society, http://bit.ly/aNIs57)
- It’s important to realize that renewable energy sources are not the only cause of variation in a power system. The entire electrical grid – fossil fuel resources included – relies on “load balancing” to manage the variability between the supply side and consumer demand. (Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, http://1.usa.gov/XFqHXI)
- For a thorough explanation of how modern grid technology integrates with renewable energy to provide reliable electricity, check out this video titled “How The Lights Stay On.” The video introduces you to the people who run the electricity grid, the network of power plants and power lines that keep the lights on. It takes you inside the control center for the largest power system in the world and lets utility experts explain how the variability of wind and solar generation can be managed using existing tools and techniques. (Source: American Wind Energy Association, http://bit.ly/UYYIWZ)