Times are changing quicker than most can imagine when it comes to today’s energy infrastructure. Many jurisdictions are adopting as much clean energy as possible under the current grid constraints.
But what are the hold ups preventing a 100% renewable energy sourced grid?
Distributed Energy Generation: Traditionally, the grid was designed for electricity to flow from centralized power plants to users, but in a carbon neutral future, this will no longer be the case. We need to allow for more electricity from small users/producers back to the grid, while allowing for grid stability. There has been plenty of discussions of this happening but, because the grid moves at a snail’s pace, not much has been done.
Demand Management: We need to establish a smart, intelligent grid and demand management mechanisms aimed at increasing flexibility and reducing peak-loads in order to deal with increased variability in demand (Most power plants today are sized for peak-demand times like on hot summer days when all the ACs are in use). We basically need to reduce unnecessary loads when the grid enters peak demand and new buildings can be equipped with systems to make this change possible (And there’s a LEED credit for it too!)
Improve Grid Interconnection: We need regional and international level cooperation aimed at balancing capabilities and security of energy supply. When sun sets in the east coast, the west coast is still producing plenty of solar energy, this excess capacity can be send over to balance the grid and reduce the need for fossil fuel energy consumption. High voltage DC power lines should be considered to bridge this transition. The wind is always blowing somewhere, the goal should be to efficiency use these resources in an effective manner.
Energy Storage: We need to introduce energy storage capacity as a viable way to store excess renewable energy capacity. Often in high solar and wind regions like Germany, supply is exceeding demand. In these cases, the energy grid should capture this variable energy and use it when it is needed like at night or cloudy days. There is also talk that electric vehicles (EVs) have the potential to bridge the gap to high levels of small scale energy storage in many residential applications.
Energy Efficiency in Buildings: And don’t forget that large scale building energy efficiency is utmost required in order for an 100% renewable energy sourced grid to be possible. Adding solar to every rooftop won’t alone solve this problem. But incorporating energy storage technology, demand management and of course energy efficiency is a step in the right direction.
Bill Womeldorf is a building efficiency designer in Boston, MA. He’s typically the one with the reusable water bottle in business meetings. When we all work together, he believes, it’s possible to solve the climate crisis. You can follow Bill on twitter @BillWomeldorf