When Energy Secretary Rick Perry publicly stated that intermittent power sources such as wind and solar energy are a threat to reliability, he was met with scorn from the environmental community that presented evidence to the contrary. Now, he is apparently being contradicted by his own at the US Department of Energy.
That’s what Bloomberg is reporting, which has gotten its hands on a July draft report that the agency is in the process of writing — and submitting.
“The power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards,” according to the study obtained by Bloomberg. But its sources go on to tell the news outlet that the report has been “constantly evolving,” and that it could be released this week. ”Grid operators are using technologies, standards and practices to assure that they can continue operating the grid reliably.”
Perry’s thinking is not unusual — that baseload power such as coal, natural gas and nuclear are simply more reliable than renewable energy. That is, the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. As such, the Energy Secretary has questioned President Obama’s renewable energy legacy, saying that if energy reliability is threatened then too so is the American economy. He thus asked his agency to give this issue a critical review.
Of note, though, is the fact that Texas is the country’s biggest wind producer, which would seem to undercut his argument — as the state’s former governor who oversaw the building of wind farms and the extended grids to accommodate that power. But President Trump has said that wind and solar are replacing coal generation and has vowed to reverse regulations that are unfavorable to the industry.
“Over the last several years, grid experts have expressed concern about the erosion of critical baseload resources,” Perry said last month, as reported by Bloomberg.
But the technologies to increase grid reliability are improving and becoming more pervasive. That is, there’s now onsite power that relies on renewable energy and localized microgrids to deliver that energy. And there’s also the potential for energy storage devices.
Onsite power is one matter. Centralized generation and delivery is another, which has been the traditional method upon which businesses depend. In those instances, the critics of renewables have pointed out that wind and solar power need back up generation that is typically provided by natural gas. As a result, wind and solar still produce emissions — that one day may be avoided if battery technologies can reliably store those electrons.
But until storage technologies reach their full potential, the relationship between natural gas and renewables is symbiotic.
“All other things equal, a 1% percent increase in the share of fast reacting fossil technologies is associated with a 0.88% percent increase in renewable generation capacity in the long term,” says a study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Our paper calls attention to the fact that renewables and fast-reacting fossil technologies appear as highly complementary and that they should be jointly installed to meet the goals of cutting emissions and ensuring a stable supply.”
The next question is whether the grids can handle this intermittency. Even in California, grid experts have expressed concern, especially as renewable requirements have increased. California, for example, has a 50 percent mandate by 2030.
“When you started getting into those ranges at least five or six years ago when they were doing it, it got to be sort of expensive in the 25 to 30 percent range,” says Ron Litzinger, president of the Edison Energy Group, at a symposium moderated by this journalist.
“I think that’s come down a lot. I see the same trend as we go to 50 percent,” he adds. “Using the grid as storage, I think what I basically meant by think about is as you as an individual customer are either producing or consuming electricity going back and forth two ways on the grid, you’re relying on that grid to do the equivalent of what a battery would do for you … But through smart communications and quick communications and control, the other generators on the system are adjusting accordingly to make up for your fluctuation.”
In other words, prevailing technologies that increase efficiencies are becoming widespread. Those new efficiencies mean there’s more room on the grid for green energy.