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Integrating Renewables

Opportunity for advancement or exercise in futility?

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2010

renewables integration as a noble cause, they simultaneously view it with a great deal of skepticism. Timing of the change is important. While the renewable integration challenge remains at a manageable level today, it will reach a point of critical mass in the next three to five years, based on the best available data. The fact that renewable sources of energy already are entering various transmission and distribution networks also must be considered. A difficulty presented by this is that solutions available in one region might not be available in others.

For example, the hydro dams in the Northwest that can be used to regulate electric generation to match the ramping of wind power aren’t available in the Midwest. This regional availability—or the lack thereof—of renewable resources makes a one-size-fits-all solution impossible. Every solution also will be saddled with its own downside, either economic or environmental. Solutions will need to be judged individually by region and merit.

The ultimate choice between pursuing renewables integration or not has both pros and cons, but nature and necessity are leading in one direction. Thus, while specific solutions are important, a framework of customizable and tailor-made solutions will need to be developed for each region and resource as they struggle with these problems.

As countries and individual states ponder RPS standards, as well as the implications of carbon regulation, economic considerations raise important concerns, particularly during a period of global recession. Due to the recent turmoil in the world’s financial markets, U.S. states are looking toward the influx of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding. The possibility of receiving a handout from the ARRA for the purpose of investing in technologies that will assist in renewables integration is becoming increasingly attractive. This funding is temporary, but in general government entities are much more likely to pursue the energy produced by wind and solar-powered sources if they are perceived as bringing money into their regions, while at the same time generating new jobs.

RPS standards and the entry of large amounts of wind power into the grid eventually will be implemented; the main concern is how it will impact the renewables integration big picture and its subsequent impact on grid stability. This isn’t a simple problem. By nature, however, it is fundamentally an engineering problem, and therefore it can be solved.