Greening up the grid

Why more and more renewables can (and should) be added to the grid

Many utilities and grid operators have long cautioned against adding too much wind or solar generation to the energy mix, based on the assumption that a high penetration of intermittent power sources could jeopardize the stability of the entire grid.

However, a recent study by PJM (a large Regional Transmission Authority in the U.S. and the world’s largest competitive wholesale electricity market) suggests concerns about grid stability are overstated. The PJM study confirms that with adequate transmission expansion and additional reserves, the grid could handle reliability issues operating with 30 percent of its generation coming from solar and wind energy. This report follows the recent news of California’s record peak day of renewable energy generation, which contributed to negative spot power pricing.

These are all positive signals for renewable energy advocates, as grid reliability has too often been cited as one of the primary factors preventing the wider implementation and adoption of green energy. None of this is news to most Europeans. In 2013, Denmark reached 33 percent wind penetration (more than 50 percent in December alone), while Germany had a peak of 60 percent coming from renewable energy in October 2013. (And in case you were wondering, no… the grid did not collapse! In fact, consumers didn’t even notice the difference).

So, what does this all mean?

These achievements confirm the technical feasibility of a functional and reliable grid that is heavily reliant on renewable power. It is becoming increasingly clear that a low carbon future is not only technically feasible, but also not as far into the future as we might think. The grid will need to be smarter and make a better use of demand response and analytics software, but the technology already exists to safely integrate large amounts of renewable power generation into our power networks.

The PJM report also includes very interesting comments about the lower operation and maintenance costs of a grid with more green energy. The fact that solar generation is now possible at extremely competitive prices combined with the technology’s  flexibility and creativity makes it clear that renewable power is here to stay, and in many cases is already competitive with traditional forms of power generation.

So even as the discussion and debate about greener energy sources rages on, we know that increasing the level of renewable energy penetration into the grid is no longer a problem from the past, but a solution for the future. So, let’s keep greening up the grid!

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About the author

Pablo Astorga

As ABB’s Global Sales Manager Microgrids, I am responsible for developing complete microgrid solutions for our customers around the world. I have nearly a decade of extensive international experience in renewable energy and joined the company in 2006 in Spain. I lived in the U.S. between 2009 and 2014 and in 2015 I relocated back to Europe, from where I lead ABB’s efforts to address the increasing need to integrate renewable energy into hybrid microgrids.
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