Renewable energy sources – particularly wind and solar – offer many benefits. One downside, however, is that they only produce electricity when nature cooperates. The intermittent nature of these energy sources means that the amount of electricity generated varies from zero to full capacity depending on conditions that are often beyond human control.
What are the costs of this intermittency? Can these costs be reduced through grid management practices, policy solutions or technological innovation? How can we best incorporate more renewables into our electric grid while assuring uninterrupted power delivery?
To address these issues, the UNC Energy Center and the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise hosted a conference on Meeting the Renewables Intermittency Challenge on April 13-14, 2018. A new conference report summarizes the takeaways.
The conference brought together senior executives from major utilities and renewable energy companies, consultants and academic researchers to examine the true cost of integrating renewable energy generation into the electric grid and explore ways to address the challenges posed by wind and solar energy intermittency.
Participants identified organizational changes, technologies, operational practices and pricing structures that could help integrate renewables into the power supply while keeping costs down. The conference also considered how policy structures, regulations and incentives can create unintended consequences for efforts to increase renewables and cut carbon emissions.
Fortunately, there are many options for mixing and matching sources of energy, and operational practices to optimize energy generation and grid management across the U.S. In most cases, the ideal mix will be specific to each location. The conference surfaced important considerations for utilities, policy makers and the public as the U.S. moves toward hybrid approaches that combine renewables, natural gas, storage and nuclear energy for a lower-carbon future.