ENERGY | GRID FLEXIBILITY
RANKING AND RESULTS BY 2050 #77
AN ENABLING TECHNOLOGY—COST AND SAVINGS
ARE EMBEDDED IN RENEWABLE ENERGY
During John Muir’s first summer, exploring the Sierra Nevada, he wrote in his journal, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” For more than a century, people have used this quote to describe the interconnectedness of ecosystems and the planetary ripple effects of everything from food to transport. It is also useful for describing the phenomenon of the grid: the dynamic web of electricity production, transmission, storage, and consumption that 85 percent of the world relies on. Increasingly, the phrase “global energy transition” gets bandied about, usually to describe a wholesale shift from fossil fuels to clean, renewable sources of energy. While this shift in sources is the crux of the matter when it comes to green house gas emissions, broader change is afoot: a transformation of the entire grid system.
…..Some sources of renewable power have constancy akin to that of fossil fuel—generated electricity: geothermal steam, rushing water, or combusted biomass, to name three. Producing electricity from the wind and sun, however is an intermittent endeavor. With everyday rhythms and variations in wind, they vary from minute to minute, day to day, and season to season. The month of November in Germany, for example, has notoriously low wind and sun, so extra production must come from elsewhere. In addition to variability, solar and wind generation is diverse, ranging from centralized and utility-scale to small and distributed, such as solar on rooftops. Integrating geothermal into the grid is a standard procedure, but the current grid was not designed for wind. Utilities and regulators around the world are grappling with the question: In a rapidly shifting landscape, how can the grid best align electricity supply and end-user demand, keeping lights on and costs in check?
…..The answer is flexibility. For electricity supply to become predominantly or entirely renewable, the grid needs to become more adaptable than it is today. The front-runners of renewable energy integration, such as California, Denmark, Germany, and South Australia, are showing that grid flexibility stems from a variety of measures—on both the supply and demand sides, as well as utility operations—and looks different in different places.
By 2050, 80 percent renewable generation could be a global reality. In many grids around the world, renewable energy is already reaching 20 to 40 percent share, including variable renewables as well as constant. So far, the balancing act is working well—better, in fact, than many predicted. More and more jurisdictions soon will be pursuing advanced grid flexibility, integrating the mix of measures that works best for a particular context. Renewable sources in tandem with more flexible grids will make the global energy transition possible. While photovoltaic panels and towering turbines may garner most of the attention, flexibility is the means for renewables to become the dominant form of energy on the planet.
IMPACT: We do not model grid flexibility because it is a complicated, dynamic system, and it is nearly impossible to account for all local factors at a global scale. However, to grow beyond a 25 percent share of generation, variable renewable energy sources require grid flexibility. The emissions reductions from this solution are counted in the variable renewable solutions that could not reach their full potential without it.