With all the current hype -surrounding the development of renewable power, one looming question remains. The proverbial elephant in the room is whether existing infrastructure is adequate to transmit all of this newly generated electricity from solar, wind, biomass and other green sources.
A recent study by the nation’s top scientific booster for renewable power has reduced the validity of those claims. According to the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Western states’ power grid is more than adequate to withstand a surge in power generated by wind and solar over the next several years.
The NREL released the findings of a study that assessed the operational impacts and economics of increased contributions from wind- and solar-energy producers. The Western Wind and Solar Integration Study examined the effect wind and solar will have on the power system operated by the WestConnect group of utilities. WestConnect is a group of transmission providers in the Mountain and Southwestern states. It includes Arizona Public Service, El Paso Electric Co., Nevada Energy, Public Service of New Mexico, Salt River Project, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Coop., Tucson Electric Power, Western Areas Power Administration and Xcel Energy.
The study examined the hypothetical threshold of 35 percent electricity generated by wind, photovoltaics and concentrating solar power by 2017. It found that the target is technically feasible and does not necessitate extensive additional infrastructure.
While the findings dismissed the notion that more transmission lines need to be built, they support the importance of another aspect of the energy revolution, the so-called “smart grid.” Specifically, the study found that to accommodate the expected increase in renewable power, utilities will have to substantially increase their coordination over wider geographic areas and schedule their generation deliveries more frequently. These planning changes will help utilities account for the variability of wind- and solar-power systems, both of which answer to the unpredictable whims of Mother Nature.