How can we successfully integrate renewables into the energy grid?
The transition towards renewable energy is key to reducing emissions and combating the effects of climate change. But there’s a challenge: The current electrical grid is not capable of integrating as much renewable energy as we need to meet our decarbonization targets.
So, how can we modernize our electrical grid in a way that integrates renewables while providing reliable energy to communities in need?
How did the grid operate before renewables?
The US electric grid has had the same basic structure since the late 19th century. Fossil fuel-based power plants produce most of the electricity and send it across long distances using transmission lines and substations. The energy grid is quite reliable as fossil fuels provide a consistent baseload generation. The caveat? Significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Fossil Fuel Power Plants
Fossil fuel-based power plants generate electricity 24 hours a day.
How is the grid handling the adoption of renewables?
To reduce GHG emissions, more renewable energy projects have been developed. Solar, wind, and hydropower all help decarbonize the grid. In 2021, about 20% of all US electricity was produced from renewable energy sources. But if we want to press forward with the energy transition, we must have the grid infrastructure to support more renewable power production. Right now, we don’t.
Renewable energy creates no GHGs and is great for reaching decarbonization targets. But the intermittent nature of renewables leads to an unreliable grid. After all, we can’t generate renewable power when the sun isn‘t shining or the wind isn't blowing.
Renewable Energy Sources
How can we ensure that renewables are successfully integrated onto the grid?
There are a few ways that we can upgrade and modernize our grid. From building more energy storage systems, to designing more high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines, to planning significant investment that provide more points of interconnection, we do have solutions to create reliable power grids.
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Three approaches to integrate the grid
Energy storage is critical to help offset the intermittent nature of renewables.
The energy grid is operating at 100%, providing energy reliability to communities across the country.
Generating power from fossil fuel sources leads to significant GHG emissions. We must determine how we reduce these emissions while keeping the lights on for energy consumers.
The energy grid is not as interconnected as it needs to be and is split into three grids: East, West, and Texas. More points of interconnection are needed to share low-cost, reliable energy across the country.
Lack of Interconnections
Many fossil fuel plants have been decommissioned with the introduction of more renewables to the grid.
Less Fossil Fuel Plants
Thanks to integrating renewables, there are less GHG emissions being released into the atmosphere. This is great news for the energy transition.
The addition of renewables leads to a less reliable grid. When the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, too much energy is generated for the grid to handle. When neither solar nor wind are achievable, the grid can experience blackouts. This needs to be balanced with a modernized approach.
Energy Storage Systems are critical to help offset the intermittent nature of renewables. Emerging energy storage systems provide reduced peak energy demand and include battery storage, pumped storage, hydrogen, and more.
Energy Storage Systems
High voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines have the ability to transmit large amounts of power over long distances. They can help send solar or wind power from the Midwest where production is plentiful, to communities across the US where it is not.
High Voltage Direct Current
Sometimes, it all comes down to funding. Significant investment and fewer regulatory hurdles are needed to modernize the electrical grid for the years to come. The energy transition is top of mind, so why wait?
Having a more reliable grid allows us to integrate more renewables, leading to a reduction in GHG emissions. Now, we can achieve our decarbonization targets and provide consistent power generation to communities across the country.
Even Less Emissions
Modern Grid Technologies
Modern grid technologies like HVDC cables can improve grid reliability.
Significant Capital Investment
Significant investment and fewer regulatory hurdles are needed to modernize the electrical grid.