The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has released an initial study assessing the operational impacts and economics of increased contributions from wind and solar energy producers on the power grid.
‘The Western Wind and Solar Integration Study’ examines the benefits and challenges of integrating enough wind and solar energy capacity onto the grid to produce 35% of its electricity by 2017. The study finds that this target is technically feasible and does not necessitate extensive additional infrastructure, but does require key changes to current operational practice.
The results offer a look at the issue of adding a significant amount of variable renewable energy in the West and can help utilities across the region plan how to ramp up their production of renewable energy as they incorporate more wind and solar energy plants onto the power grid.
‘If key changes can be made to standard operating procedures, our research shows that large amounts of wind and solar can be incorporated onto the grid without a lot of backup generation,’ says Debra Lew, NREL project manager for the study. ‘When you coordinate the operations between utilities across a large geographic area, you decrease the effect of the variability of wind and solar energy sources, mitigating the unpredictability of Mother Nature.’
The study focuses on the operational impacts of wind, photovoltaics and concentrating solar power on the power system operated by the WestConnect group of utilities in the Mountain and Southwest states. WestConnect is a group of transmission providers, which includes Arizona Public Service, El Paso Electric Co., NV Energy, Public Service of New Mexico, Salt River Project, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Cooperative, Tucson Electric Power, Western Area Power Administration and Xcel Energy.
Though wind and solar output vary over time, the technical analysis performed in this study shows that it is operationally possible to accommodate 30% wind and 5% solar energy penetration. To accomplish such an increase, utilities will have to substantially increase their coordination of operations over wider geographic areas and schedule generation deliveries, or sales, on a more frequent basis.
The study can be found online at nrel.gov.