Just a few years ago, renewable energy was barely considered as a part of a country’s energy planning.
Publics and governments attempted to increase the renewable share in their energy systems, however the costs were too high. Many were also concerned about the impact of adding ‘too much capacity’ from various renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power on the electricity grid.
But this is no more. The economics are no longer challenging, with the prices for inputs falling so low (in particular solar PV and wind turbines) that renewables are now in close competition with traditional, fossil fuel generated power.
In 2014, approximately 144 countries developed plans to expand renewable energy and close to 100 established specific goals and incentives.
A report from the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) indicated that with the correct combination of investments and new policies, countries will be able to integrate unknown shares of varible renewable energy into the grid with no risk of compromising reliability, affordability or adequacy.
According to World Bank’s Energy and Extractives Global Practice senior director, Anita George, “renewables are no longer a marginal business,”.
“We are talking about levels of energy that can bring light to thousands of households, grow businesses, meet the needs of cities, and drive entire economies.”
The transition to a large-scale supply of renewable energy will need a significant shift in the way we think, as well as infrastructure. The grid will need to be modernized, new technologies adopted, utility business models reworked and policy/regulatory frameworks updated.
A recent ESMAP report identified a number of innovative approaches to instigate these shifts and to make sure the transition is a success.
The approached involve the improving the strength of interconnections between areas, making the amount of various renewable energy sources from different locations more diverse and increasing complementary generation and demand response technologies.
The report also adds to past reports on the topic by focusing in on the importance of the role natural gas and energy storage plays in the integration of variable renewable power sources.
Energy storage options can potentially address most challenging parts of integration. They consist of a large range of technologies such as compressed air, pumped hydro, a number of battery technologies and thermal storage, and it can act as a demand source by charging when energy use is low during the day, as well as a supply source by discharging when demand increases.
It’s clear in the report that this new approach still has challenges, however with a transition as large as this it is expected.
Ms George notes just how far the debate of a renewable electricity grid has come.
“Five years ago, we would not have even been talking about these issues… We are no longer talking about getting to five percent renewable energy penetration; we are talking about the challenges of balancing when you go above 20 percent. We are no longer talking about intermittency; we are talking about managing variability across the entire system,”.
Photo courtesy of Martin Abegglen