Monday, April 28, 2014

How Much Renewables can the Grid Support?

This interesting article from MIT Technology Review series "Ten Breakthrough Technologies 2014" suggests that, using information technology to generate sophisticated predictive models of how much wind and solar will be generated in 15-minute increments, electricity grids will be able to support MUCH MORE "intermittent" renewable energy than previously thought.

The (US) National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado has a pilot project, whereby Xcel, one of the US' largest utilities and the main power distributor in Colorado, is able to avoid the need for back-up fossil fuel generation, taking data from every wind turbine feeding into its system and using the NCAR models.  Based on the new models, Xcel supports a mandate for utilities to get 30% of their electricity from intermittent, renewable sources.

And NCAR is now working on a similar model for solar, to match the wind models.  The main challenge is the lack of data from residential rooftop systems.

And the MIT article mentions one of my favorite ideas -- the use of electric car battery storage to offset dips in the grid from use of renewables.

These types of developments are among the reasons why U.S. technology thinkers now see renewables as no longer expensive or impractical, and why the largest share of U.S. new generation added last year was renewable wind/solar.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Innovation Blindness

Should we make massive investments in new "clean coal" or nuclear generation today?

Leaving aside the environmental debates, this post notes eloquently that blindness to technological innovation can severely hinder policymaking.  The post takes issue with an analysis showing the iphone today incorporates technologies that cost over $3000 in 1991.  Instead, the post argues, an iphone in 2014 incorporates over $3.5 million in 1991 technology. The 32GB memory alone would have been over $1.5 million in 1991.  Of course, the form factor is an entirely different matter.

We see the same thing in terms of energy policy.  Renewables are deemed "unreliable" and "expensive" based upon historical technologies and cost.  Instead just look at the cost curve for solar, wind, fuel cells and other renewable or environmentally-friendly technologies.  And think about the likely cost of storage technologies that will be available in 10 or 20 years, and the IT and communications advances to support demand management.  If you take such things into account, you will come up with entirely different answers to energy policy questions than if you look at historical costs.