Report Argues That Renewables Can Meet Demands of Power Grid

Tom Johnson | April 23, 2013 | Energy & Environment
Deploying a mix of clean technologies can counterbalance intermittent nature of some renewables, according to new study

The fact that the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine is often advanced as an argument by those who say the state and nation cannot place too great a reliance on renewable energy technologies, like solar and wind.

But a new study prepared for the Civil Society Institute suggests that the power grid could integrate and balance many times the current level of renewables with no additional reliability issues, according to Grant Smith a senior analyst for the organization, based in Newton, MA.

“Put simply, the message is this: It is a myth to say the United States cannot rely on renewables for the bulk of electricity generation,’’ argued Thomas Vitolo, an analyst for Synapse Energy Economics and a co-author of the report.

The study underscores many of the debates taking place in New Jersey, where the state hopes to have 20 percent of its electricity produced from cleaner sources of electricity, such as solar and wind, by the year 2020. It is a goal critics say is both unrealistic and too costly for consumers and businesses.

At the same time, the state’s main source of funding for clean energy projects has been repeated tapped by lawmakers and the Christie administration to plug holes in the budget, including a total of $152 million in the proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

In the report, however, the authors claim that the nation can lower the carbon emissions contributing to global climate change at the same time that it reduces the estimated cost of business as usual.

“What we demonstrate in this report is that strategies to address one of the most pressing challenges faced by our species and our planet are already not only achievable, but cost effective,’’ the study asserted.

By 2050, if the United States ceases to burn coal (which faces increasingly stringent environmental regulations) and shuts down one-quarter of its aging nuclear power plants, the resulting increased reliance on wind, solar, and other renewables will not result in a less reliable electric grid, the report said.

Others questioned the assertion.

“I think not,’’ said Steven Goldenberg, an energy lawyer who has pushed for the development of new power plants in New Jersey.

“It’s hard to envision that solar or wind, available only 13 percent to 30 percent of the time, could possibly substitute for more traditional forms of generation that serves as more reliable forms of power.’’

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, argued otherwise. “We think it’s true,’’ he said. “By having a broad energy mix of renewables, you protect the power grid . . . They would include solar, wind, low-impact hydro, and wave energy, he argued.

Smith noted recent improvements both in renewable technologies and in those technologies used to control and balance the grid have been proceeding at a rapid pace.

In addressing the issue of solar and wind being only intermittent sources of electricity production, the report suggest that hydro and natural gas generation, as well as increased transmission capacity, could supply needed load when the renewable sources produce less than what the grid demands.