One of the major issues facing the growth of renewable energy is figuring out how it will be transmitted and what kind of infrastructure changes will have to be made to accomodate it. NREL has good news for us. It turns out that the existing grid is ready to take on lots more wind and solar energy with little changes necessary.
A new study by NREL found that the nation's power grid is able to handle a large increase in renewable energy, but there will have to be operational and organization changes.
The study looked at the benefits and challenges of having wind and solar energy make up 35 percent of energy capacity by 2017. The study used the WestConnect group of utilites as a testing ground (they cover the mountain and southwest states) and found that it was possible for that group, with existing transmission networks, to achieve a 30 percent wind energy and 5 percent solar energy portfolio.
The study found that expanding coordination of power delivery to a larger geographic area, and doing so more frequently (as wind and solar conditions changed), reduced the need for back-up energy generation (like from natural gas) and new transmission. Also, wind and solar forecasts would become essential for utility operations.
NREL found that if the WestConnect utilities generated 27 percent of their electricity from wind and solar, carbon emissions would be lowered by as much as 45 percent. Fuel and emissions costs would fall by 40 percent.
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