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NREL: Grid Can Handle Large Solar and Wind Increase

A report released yesterday by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) assessed the operational impacts and increased contributions from wind and solar energy producers on the power grid. According to the report, the current grid can produce as much as 35 percent of its power from wind and solar sources without requiring a significant increase in infrastructure.

However, including that much new green power would require changes to current practices, including greater coordination between utilities over a wider area.

The study focuses on the operational impacts of wind, photovoltaics, and concentrating solar power on the power system operated by the WestConnect group of utilities in the mountain and southwest states. WestConnect is a group of transmission providers, which includes Arizona Public Service, El Paso Electric Co., NV Energy, Public Service of New Mexico, Salt River Project, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Cooperative, Tucson Electric Power, Western Area Power Administration, and Xcel Energy.

Though wind and solar output vary over time, the technical analysis performed in this study shows that it is operationally possible to accommodate 30 percent wind and 5 percent solar energy penetration. To accomplish such an increase, utilities will have to substantially increase their coordination of operations over wider geographic areas and schedule their generation deliveries, or sales, on a more frequent basis. Currently generators provide a schedule for a specific amount of power they will provide in the next hour. More frequent scheduling would allow generators to adjust that amount of power based on changes in system conditions such as increases or decreases in wind or solar generation.

The study also finds that if utilities generate 27 percent of their electricity from wind and solar energy across the Western Interconnection grid, it would lower carbon emissions by 25 to 45 percent. It would also decrease fuel and emissions costs by 40 percent, depending on the future price of natural gas.

The American Wind Energy Association was quick to endorse the findings.

“This study is further validation of what we’ve been saying – that obtaining 20% or more of America’s electricity from wind is an achievable and desirable goal for our economy, environment, and energy security.” said AWEA CEO Denise Bode.  “Now the only question is whether Congress and the Administration will step up and enact the policies – particularly a strong Renewable Electricity Standard and robust transmission legislation – that will allow us to get there. The American people know that wind works for America and agree that Congress must act—according to a recent national poll conducted by a bipartisan team of pollsters, 77% of Americans believe Congress is focusing too little on increasing renewable energy resources.”

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