It is a crucial, if geekish, point: Wind and solar power are NOT intermittent, they are VARIABLE.
If someone talks about problems with the intermittencies of wind and solar energies, it is out of ignorance or to intentionally discredit them. Obviously, the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow but those things can be scheduled and forecasted and are no reasons whatsoever not to keep building wind power and solar energy as fast as is humanly possible.
The Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), says transmission system tools are now available that would allow the Mountain West and Southwestern states to get 35% of their electricity from wind and solar energies by 2017. All it will require, aside from the building of the wind and solar production capacity, is a change in the WestConnect group of grid operators’ standard operating procedures.
By adding more wind and photovoltaic and concentrating solar into the power supply, bringing the total for wind to 30% and for solar to 5%, electricity prices and greenhouse gas emissions (GhGs) can be reduced without a loss of reliability.
Electricity prices will fall as a result of fossil fuel cost savings of 40% and GhGs will likely fall 25-to-45%, the equivalent of taking 22-36 million cars off the road. For such extraordinary benefits, WestConnect power system operators would simply have to (1) expand the geographic area from which they draw, (2) make their electricity sales and purchases more frequently than the hour-by-hour schedule they presently use, (3) make more effective use of forecasting, and (4) increase the use of Demand Response (DR) programs that drive more efficient use of electricity when the need for it peaks. ::continue::
By expanding the geographic area from which grid operators draw solar and wind resources, they reduce variability because while it is true that the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow in any one place, it is almost always the case that either the sun is shining somewhere or the wind is blowing somewhere.
By scheduling power purchases/sales more frequently than every hour, grid operators reduce the need for “spinning reserves” and thereby eliminate some of the burning of natural gas and/or coal for back-up electricity that ultimately does not get used.
The more effective use of new, more accurate forecasting capabilities is another necessity for integrating more wind and solar and eliminating waste. It can further reduce costs 14%.
Utilizing DR programs to cut the need to supply more “peaking” electricity both eliminates the need for generation and the need for spinning reserves, making DR the cheapest option of all.
These shifts in grid operations will neutralize the issue of wind and solar energies’ variability and allow more than a third of the power supply to come from them without the loss of reliability or major new transmission undertakings.
This post is based on NREL Study Shows Power Grid can Accommodate Large Increase in Wind and Solar Generation; Increased Coordination Over Wider Areas and More Frequent Scheduling Needed; Wind and Solar Significantly Reduce Carbon and Fuel Costs (May 20, 2010, National Renewable Energy Laboratory)