Dr. Geoffrey Kinsey
Director of Photovoltaic Technologies, Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE)
Fossil fuels are exhaustible. Therefore, a transition to an economy that runs on sustainable energy sources is both necessary and inevitable. However, a near-term focus on "100 percent renewables" runs the risk of attracting more criticism than support. An approach that focuses on high penetration (greater than 50 percent) of renewables will provide a more effective path to a sustainable energy future.
Thanks to the technological progress and cost reduction that has occurred over the last decade, renewables are now reaching grid parity in more and more areas around the world. In tandem, on-going technology developments in energy efficiency pay for themselves and reduce the load that must be carried by renewables.
Managing energy usage and large swings in supply through automated demand response will be essential — particularly in buildings, which drive peak electric demand. The advent of low-cost smart electronics in the last decade offers a means of enabling the necessary energy management.
High penetration of renewables will also require investments in both grid storage and transmission to re-distribute power across time zones and to smooth out supply intermittency. Pumped-storage hydroelectricity remains the most cost-effective storage method, though the arrival of low-cost electric vehicles adds the potential for substantial storage via vehicle-to-grid architectures.
The remaining challenge is to create the regulatory framework, standards, and incentives to enable economies to make dramatic shifts in their energy mix and invest the capital that is required. While the necessary investment is substantial, the benefits include economic development and job creation.
Dr. Geoffrey Kinsey is the director of photovoltaic technologies at the Boston-based Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE), a leading provider of contract research and development services to the U.S. renewable energy industry.
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