Renewable energy stresses grids not prepared for it


Our ancient electrical grids are in danger of becoming destabilized by increasing amounts of renewable energy. This is not right wing hysteria. Our grids were designed for steady amounts of power. Renewable energy changes all that. For example, large amounts of power can vanish almost instantly when clouds pass over a grid scale solar farm then re-appear just as fast. The problem is, the grid must always be in perfect balance between supply and demand. Hugely fluctuating amounts of renewable energy make it harder to maintain that critical balance.

But as states, led by California, race to bring more wind, solar and geothermal power online, those and other forms of alternative energy have become a new source of anxiety. The problem is that renewable energy adds unprecedented levels of stress to a grid designed for the previous century.

The technology exists now to solve these problems. Politics, fiefdoms, and entrenched interests are the stumbling blocks.

But the grid is also built on an antiquated tangle of market rules, operational formulas and business models. It makes for a formidable riddle.

Planners are struggling to plot where and when to deploy solar panels, wind turbines and hydrogen fuel cells without knowing whether regulators will approve the transmission lines to support them.