Amory Lovins, a Stanford University professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, dispels these myths with data that is freely available to anyone. He uses it to debunk three misunderstandings about the grid and renewable energy.
MYTH #1: A RENEWABLE ENERGY-BASED GRID IS UNRELAXED According to Lovins, the System Average Interruption Duration Index, or SAIDI, or the average length of each customer’s annual power outage, is the indicator most frequently used to describe grid reliability. Germany is frequently used as an illustration of a nation with an unstable grid. About half of its electricity comes from renewable sources. Yet, with a SAIDI of just 0.25 hours in 2020, its grid is among the most reliable. In 2020, the United States had an outage rate five times higher than that of Germany (1.28 hours), where nuclear and renewable energy together generate about 20% of the country’s electricity.
Germany’s percentage of renewable electricity generation has nearly doubled since 2006, and the country’s rate of power outages has virtually been cut in half. Similar to how the Texas grid improved in stability when its wind capacity increased six-fold between 2007 and 2020. Today, Texas produces more wind energy than any other state in the US, accounting for nearly a quarter of its total electricity production. Contrary to what the oil and gas lobby would have us believe, the facts demonstrates that renewables improve grid resilience.
Myth #2: To stabilize the grid, fossil fuels are required. Again, the facts dispels this widespread notion. Germany’s generation from fossil fuels decreased by 130.9 TWh between 2010 and 2020, while nuclear generation decreased by 76.3 TWh. 149.5 TWh of clean energy were used to balance off these declines. A further 38 TWh were saved thanks to energy conservation measures. As we can see above, despite all these modifications, the German grid actually grew more stable. Germany achieved the 2007 target of 40 percent by 2020, with greenhouse gas emissions falling by 42.3 percent below 1990 levels. Just the electricity sector’s carbon dioxide emissions decreased from 315 million tons in 2010 to 185 million tons in 2020.
According to Lovins, more than 40 nuclear reactors in Japan have shut down permanently or indefinitely as a result of the multiple reactor meltdowns at Fukushima, without significantly increasing fossil fuel generation or greenhouse gas emissions. Despite laws that stifled renewable energy, electricity savings and renewable energy offset nearly the whole loss.
Myth #3: REGENERATED ENERGY CANNOT SUPPLY DEMAND 24 HOURS A DAY. This is a favorite subject of the Faux News camp, and it is pure Grade A nonsense about a disgraced former president. Lovins emphasizes that ALL producing sources occasionally go offline due to weather situations or periodic maintenance. None are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. At some point, all available electrical sources will be inoperative.
Both the fact of variable demand and that reality must be dealt with by grid managers. This reality is unaffected by the increased use of renewable energy, despite changes in how they handle fluctuation and uncertainty.
The amount of water that is available affects hydropower generation. Methane and coal sources are not always dependable. In Texas in 2021, many power outages were caused by diesel generators that wouldn’t start, which powered the pipelines. In 2019, there were 96.2 days on average when French nuclear facilities were unavailable due to forced or planned unavailability. In 2020, that increased to 115.5 days. Nine reactors produced nearly no electricity for several days in the aftermath of a blackout that hit the northeastern US states in 2003 due to abrupt nuclear generating shutdowns. Many needed two weeks to get back to working at full capacity.
Modern grid operators prioritize diversity and flexibility over nominally reliable but less flexible baseload power sources (with the exception of Texas, where grid operations are based on ideology rather than data). Diversified renewable portfolio failures are not as severe, long-lasting, or unpredictable as those of large thermal power plants. According to Lovins, all thermal generating plants are idle 7 to 12% of the time.
THE GRID’S MISSION An electric grid serves more than only transmitting and distributing electricity in response to demand changes. It must also control the intermittent nature of conventional fossil and nuclear power facilities. Similar to how the grid can quickly supplement wind and solar variations with other renewable sources, this task has gotten simpler as a result of more precise weather and wind speed predictions. As a result, it is possible to anticipate the output of different renewable energy sources more accurately.
The fact that local or onsite renewables completely or substantially avoid the grid, where almost all power outages start, makes them even more resilient. The billion watt South Australian system has been running on only solar and wind power for days on end, with no coal, hydro, or nuclear power, and only the 4.4 percent natural gas generation required by the grid regulator. That was made feasible in large part because to the Hornsdale battery that Tesla provided.
SKID DUMPING BATTERIES CleanTechnica frequently covers energy storage, whether it is through batteries, compressed air, hydropower, or other methods. It is widely believed that it is essential to the switch to renewable energy. Lovins asserts that there are less expensive carbon-free alternatives to using enormous batteries to manage variable renewable energy sources.
Energy efficiency comes first and foremost since it lowers demand, especially during times of peak use. More energy-efficient buildings use less energy to maintain comfort, especially during peak load periods, and alter their temperature more slowly, allowing them to coast longer on their own thermal capacity.
Demand flexibility, also known as demand response, is a second choice that enables utility companies to reward customers who reduce their electricity usage in response to requests. Usually, this happens subconsciously and automatically. The clients will hardly notice this happening automatically thanks to new technology like smart breaker panels . Many online EV chargers can also change the quantity of electricity they give or change the times of charging to when the grid is not as busy.
The US has 200 gigawatts of cost-effective load flexibility potential, which might be fulfilled by 2030, according to one recent study study. Recent power outages in California have actually brought attention to the importance of demand response, leading the California Public Utilities Commission to establish the Emergency Load Reduction Program in order to expand on earlier demand response initiatives.
Diversification, both geographically and technologically, includes the use of onshore and offshore wind, solar panels, solar thermal power, geothermal, pumped hydro, and the burning of industrial, municipal, or agricultural wastes. To complete renewable energy portfolios, there are also fresh concepts like vertical bi-facial solar panels and offshore floating solar. The basic premise is that if one of these sources isn’t producing power at a particular time or place, chances are that some others will.
Technology for connecting vehicles to the grid may play a significant role in stabilizing the system. Ford has teamed up with Sunrun to promote V2G to owners of its F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, which is already generating a lot of interest. According to simulations, Texas may use only renewable energy without any storage batteries in 2050 if smart charging of electric vehicles to and from the grid combined with ice-storage air cooling in buildings.
Based on the experience of numerous German and Belgian utility providers, even Europe, which is renowned for its chilly, gloomy winters, may only require storage for a few weeks. That’s a much more manageable challenge than many supporters of fossil fuels would have you believe.
THE CONCLUSION The solution is straightforward, claims Lovins. Electrical grids can handle considerably higher percentages of renewable energy for little to no cost. With grid reliability superior to that of the United States, some European nations with little to no hydropower already acquire between half and three-fourths of their electricity from renewable sources. Now is the time to dispel the falsehoods. Yes, to that. Let the evidence speak for themselves, not doomsayers who are just interested in protecting their own interests and the environment.
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