So Much Renewable Energy, No Place To Store It

The L.A. Times picks up a story that will only become more common as more renewables come on-line: the lack of resources to store surplus, intermittent renewables.  In the old days we simply matched supply to demand, mainly by burning fuels like natural gas and coal.  Nowadays we need to react to the energy supplied by nature — specifically when the sun shines on solar panels and the wind turns the turbines.

The article references the problem in a powerful anecdote:

On a quiet Sunday morning last April, power plants were pumping far more energy into California’s electricity grid than residents needed for their refrigerators, microwaves and television sets.

So officials made an odd request in a state that prides itself on leadership in renewable energy: They asked wind and solar plants to cut back their output. For 90 minutes, clean energy production was slashed 1,142 megawatts, enough electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes, while dirtier power from less flexible sources stayed on to keep the system stable.

The article then points to some of the promising energy storage resources out there, from big battery banks to compressed air. It also describes the need to moderate our demand to match the resources, as well as the opportunities to export (and import) surplus renewable power from across the western U.S.

Ultimately, we’ll need all of these resources and more, at cheaper cost, to truly decarbonize our electricity grid and achieve long term greenhouse gas reduction goals. Otherwise, we’ll have to keep burning the dirty fuels when nature isn’t giving us the clean ones.


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