The cost of renewable energy continues to decline significantly year over year making it the cheapest source of power. Since 2010, the price of solar power fell by over 80% while the price of fossil fuels remained relatively stagnant until the recent energy crisis. The rapid rise in fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and crude oil emphasizes the importance of transitioning to renewable energy to reduce energy prices.
While renewable energy is more cost-effective and environmentally friendly, many believe that renewables make the power grid more unreliable. This is largely due to three core concerns–variability in renewable energy production, recent power grid failures, and the lack of round-the-clock power generation. These concerns have been addressed as companies innovate and technology improves enabling renewable energy to contribute to a more reliable power grid.
Renewables contribute to a more stable power grid due to the growth in key supporting energy sectors. Battery energy storage capacity growth, lower manufacturing costs, and improving political support reduce the concerns surrounding renewable energy. These supporting sectors are driving the future of more reliable energy grids powered by renewables.
Renewable Energy Concerns
Power grid instability has led to an increasing amount of electric power interruptions across the United States. Many people place the blame for these interruptions on the United States’ transition to renewable energy. The variability and lack of round-the-clock power generation are common reasons cited for the instability of power grids.
Variable Power Generation
Renewable energy is heavily reliant on the weather to reliably generate power that is distributed across power grids. Overly cloudy months, droughts, and lack of wind can all affect power generation and may affect power grids that are heavily reliant on renewables. While renewable energy is cheaper and more environmentally friendly, the inherent variability creates pause for many people.
The recent energy crisis highlights the perceived problem with renewable energy. The European Union dipped further into natural gas reserves due to the lower-than-expected wind power generation. This variability in energy generation played a small role in the increased reliance on fossil fuels like coal.
This is one of the common concerns for renewables that the renewable energy industry is consistently addressing through technological innovations. These solutions reduce the amount of variability through increased storage, decreased manufacturing costs, and diversity of renewable energy sources. With these solutions, renewables become more reliable and contribute to energy grid stability.
The average annual electric power interruption duration increased from under five hours to over eight hours per customer in the United States. From large cities like California and Texas to cities across Europe, electrical power outages affect millions of people. These interruptions disrupt vital services and businesses while leading to potential local energy price spikes.
Large power outages in California and Texas coincided with the growth of renewable energy in each state. This led many people to raise concerns over renewable energy variability and its contribution to these massive outages. During the Texas outage, the governor even cited wind and solar for the state’s massive grid failure.
These outages highlight another common concern related to renewable energy and its variability. During peak demand times like heat waves, can renewable energy produce enough power to match demand and maintain energy grid integrity? While Texas drove this issue to the forefront, renewables actually outperformed the grid operator’s forecasts during 90 percent of the blackout.
Weather and Climate Reliance
Renewable energy relies on solar, wind, and water to generate power which limits its ability to supply power around the clock. This adds an unpredictable element to renewable energy generation due to the weather. Seasonal variations in the availability of solar, wind, and water can all affect how much energy is produced and stored.
These climate and weather-related factors have contributed to recent energy crises. In Europe, the lower-than-expected wind generation contributed to an increased reliance on natural gas reserves. In Texas, the freezing of windmills contributed to less wind generation that, compounded with other factors, led to the power grid collapsing.
As governments prioritize renewable energy, the industry must address the common concern of weather and climate reliance. These concerns drive hesitance due to the unpredictability of renewable generation which may lead to unreliable power grids. However, the improvements in battery energy storage capacity and increased energy efficiency in buildings directly address this problem.
How Renewables Address These Concerns
Renewable energy contributes to a more resilient and robust energy grid. As renewables shift to the bulk of energy generation for power girds, there will be fewer power outages during peak demand. While there are understandable concerns, renewable address each one with technological innovations and data from previous energy crises.
Renewable energy generation is inherently variable due to its reliance on the weather and climate. Energy storage address this concern by storing excess energy generated during off-hours that may be discharged during peak hours. This contributes to a more reliable and resilient power grid.
Over the past decade, battery energy storage systems have progressed an immense amount by increasing storage capacity while simultaneously reducing costs. Over the past decade, battery storage grew 18-fold with utility-scale battery capacity expected to grow by 84% this year alone. These massive improvements control the variability of renewable energy and also create more resilient local power grids.
As battery energy storage systems become more affordable, communities and consumers can reduce their reliance on power grids. For example, consumers can combine solar power generation and a Tesla Powerwall which can supply energy to a household for up to 12 hours. Not only does this reduce energy bills, but it also places less strain on the power grid during peak demand hours and improves the reliability of the grid.
Renewables Are More Reliable
During major power outages, there was a narrative that renewables contributed heavily to the collapse. While renewables may have played a small role in power outages, they also outperformed forecasts. In addition, some countries that generate the most renewable energy have the most reliable grids.
Germany generates nearly half of the country’s electricity from renewables with plans to continue accelerating renewable adoption. Based on the “System Average Interruption Duration Index,” Germany has one of the most reliable grids in Europe and the world. Germany’s index score was 0.25 hours which was the third best in Europe and five times better than the United States outage rate.
Germany has remained steadfast in transitioning completely to renewable energy. Since 2006, Germany has nearly quadrupled its share of renewable electricity generation while its power outage rate has nearly halved. While major power outages correlated with increased renewable adoption, Germany highlights how renewables contribute to more reliable power grids.
Renewable Energy Diversification
While each renewable energy source is reliant on the environment, diversification of renewable energy strategies can address variability in generation. Adopting multiple sources like onshore and offshore wind farms, solar panels and floatovoltaics, and hydropower can reduce the impact of a source underperforming. Utilities can also adopt demand flexibility policies and encourage building energy efficiency to reduce energy consumption and demand during peak hours.
During the recent rolling blackouts in California, the state discovered the power of demand response policies. The California Public Utilities Commission found that demand response contributed to grid support and flexible demand response may have mitigated blackouts altogether. Since buildings make up 75% of United States electricity usage, making them more energy efficient and managing energy usage via flexible demand response can limit blackouts and improve grid reliability.
Diversification across energy sources, policies, and geographies contributes to a more reliable power grid. Combining all these techniques reduces the reliance on any one source. It also addresses concerns around variance by distributing risk across many sources and policies.
Renewables Create More Reliable Power Grids
Renewables are more cost-effective than other energy sources like natural gas, coal, and nuclear. The energy crisis this year highlighted the importance of transitioning to renewable energy. While many see the cost benefits, there were still common concerns around renewable energy adoption.
These concerns focused on the variability of power generation and the recent power outages in California, Texas, and many European cities. While these are understandable concerns, the progression of technology and reliability address each of these problems. In addition, the reports from the recent outages illustrate how renewables contribute to a more reliable power grid.
During recent outages in California and Texas, renewables played a pivotal role in stabilizing the power grids. Technological advances like improved battery storage capacity along with decreased cost make it less likely variable energy generation will affect power grid reliability. Finally, improved energy policies and building efficiency will reduce load stress during peak hours to contribute to a more reliable power grid.
As renewable adoption continues to accelerate, power grids will become more secure and reliable. Germany’s transition is an important case study that highlights the promise of renewables. While Germany generates more renewable energy, replacing fossil fuels and nuclear, the average power outage duration continues to decline. This illustrates just how powerful renewables are in securing power grids and reducing the risk of future outages.