U.S. electricity system is in the midst of a massive transition toward clean
energy, as indicated by policies, economics, customer demand, and electric grid managers. In fact, wind and
solar energy have
10.5 percent of the country’s installed
generating capacity. And, the Lawrence
Berkeley National Lab has found that wind and solar could provide
40 to 50 percent of our needs by 2030. By powering our economy with low-cost
wind and solar energy, average wholesale power prices would drop $5-16/MWh — which is good for our
economy and our families. So what does the future of our grid look like?
understand the future of our electric grid, we first have to look at our
traditional electric grid. We generate electricity at large, decentralized
power plants and use transmission lines to transport those electrons to where
that electricity is needed in our homes and businesses. Electricity grid
managers must constantly balance just the right amount of energy to meet
demand every few seconds and tell power plants to ramp up or down, accordingly.
make sure that your lights turn on at the flick of a switch, the grid operator asks
power plants to make more energy than we actually need. Just how much extra
energy to we make? In 2017, 66 percent of the electricity the U.S. generated
was wasted. That is a massive amount of energy we are paying not to use
— especially since much of this comes from more costly fossil fuels that also
affect our air and water quality. Upgrading our grid to be more efficient just
plain makes good economic sense.
grid of the future will use new, clean technologies to generate cheaper
electricity that is reliable and resilient by using wind, solar, and new
electric grid services like energy storage.
energy is the cheapest source of new electricity in much of the U.S.
after its cost plummeted over the course of this decade, and solar costs are dropping just as quickly. That’s why
renewable energy makes up three-fourths of the Midwest’s
new electric capacity added in the past five years. There’s a bonus to this new
energy strategy, too. As we add more
wind and solar, we simultaneously decarbonize our economy and pay less for
these renewable resources. While this transition happens, our electric grid
managers have been busy adapting and planning how to
best harness cheap wind and solar. But they face certain challenges.
and solar energy throw a curveball at how grid managers balance the grid. While
grid operators have successfully managed more than sixty percent of wind power on the
grid at once, they still face the challenge of deploying more renewables more
often. Solar energy has its infamous duck curve challenge, where grid operators
have to balance people’s electricity needs with when there is abundant, cheap
solar energy. The Midwest has its alligator curve with all of its wind
power. And there’s been plenty of discussion at the national level
about improving the reliability and resilience of the electric grid. So how do
grid managers adapt to these new challenges to make the grid more efficient?
isn’t a single silver bullet for upgrading the grid, but you could classify the
many new solutions as making the grid more flexible. That means updating our transmission lines,
substations, and transformers with digital technology to use computers,
automation, and software to make it more efficient. We will be using incentives
and programs to use energy more wisely - like demand response, time-of-use
rates, and more. It also means using new energy storage technology to store
wind and solar when it’s made to be used later when we need it.
don’t just store energy - they provide a myriad of new benefits to make the grid more
reliable and resilient. They offer services like voltage support and frequency
regulation. They reduce grid congestion, balance short-term power, manage peak demand,
act as a backup and prevent power outages, and avoid new infrastructure
investments. Like Kelly Speakes-Backman of the Energy Storage Association says, energy storage is like the bacon of the electric grid — it just
makes everything better. Even though energy storage doesn’t produce any energy, it makes
renewable energy even more economically efficient and helps the grid
become even more stable and flexible.
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a time when building new natural gas plants is increasingly risky while
wind-plus-storage and solar-plus-storage are setting record-low prices, this transition is
already playing out faster than anyone anticipated. In fact, there is now a
record 38 GW of wind energy under construction in
the U.S. And while only one GW of energy storage has been installed in the
U.S., more than 35 GW are expected by 2025.
U.S. electric grid is the largest interconnected machine on earth and was named the
“supreme engineering achievement of the 20th century” by the National Academy of Engineers. It powers every
aspect of our lives, from our workspaces and homes, our phones and computers,
and increasingly, our vehicles. With American ingenuity, innovation, hard work,
and a little luck, the new grid will become the greatest achievement of the
This post originally appeared in Morning Consult.