Can the Power Grid Handle Renewable Energy?

December 12, 2013

Energy officials are worried about the potential of power grid collapse due to the use of renewable energy, says the Los Angeles Times.

The power grid is supposed to keep the United States' power supply steady and stable. Engineers have to work carefully to determine how much power to feed into the system without overloading it. Because renewable energy is more unpredictable than traditional forms of energy, this process is made difficult.

  • Solar panels may produce large amounts of energy one second, only to cease producing power when the sun retreats behind a cloud.
  • On especially windy days, some states have had to dump energy from wind turbines because there was no room for the power in their systems.

State and federal officials are spending billions of dollars to keep up with renewable energy's demands. A group of scholars from the California Institute of Technology said that making green energy work will be "one of the greatest technological challenges industrialized societies have undertaken."

There are proposals in California to move the state to run on 80 percent renewable energy within the next 20 years, but skeptics say that the plan is not yet workable. California's Public Utilities Commission has ordered power companies to invest in efforts to store up wind and solar power in order to distribute that energy over time in a more even fashion. But it is not at all clear that the technology is economically feasible. Southern California Edison has said that the commission's mandate "could cost up to $3 billion with uncertain net benefits for customers."

In Colorado, the U.S. Department of Energy is using a supercomputer called Peregrine to deal with the risks of alternative energy. The computer -- the size of a Mack truck -- manages a quadrillion calculations per second, mapping out grid scenarios involving multiple energy sources like wind and solar.

Source: Evan Halper, "Power Struggle: Green Energy versus a Grid That's Not Ready," Los Angeles Times, December 2, 2013.

 

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