The push for green energy in the United States may be hindered by the limitations of our outdated power grids, which are unsuited for unpredictable energy sources like sunlight and wind, according to Los Angles Times’ Evan Halper.
The current grid system is designed to “keep the supply of power steady and predictable,” Halper writes. But energy from renewable sources isn’t steady and can’t be controlled — a windy day could overload the system, while sudden cloud cover above a solar field would make it hard to keep the lights on.
“The grid was not built for renewables,” said Trieu Mai, senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The frailty imperils lofty goals for greenhouse gas reductions. Concerned state and federal officials are spending billions of dollars in ratepayer and taxpayer money in an effort to hasten the technological breakthroughs needed for the grid to keep up with the demands of clean energy.
Unlike traditional sources of electricity, like oil or coal, green energy is praised because there’s no fear of it running out, and it’s carbon-neutral, so it doesn’t contribute to climate change.
But without the ability to store energy from wind turbines or solar fields — an extremely costly endeavour — renewable sources will continue to cause issues for the current system:
Already, power grid operators in some states have had to dump energy produced by wind turbines on blustery days because regional power systems had no room for it. Officials at the California Independent System Operator, which manages the grid in California, say renewable energy producers are making the juggling act increasingly complex.
“We are getting to the point where we will have to pay people not to produce power,” said Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, a system operator board member.
This isn’t a reason not to invest in green energy, since our ageing and over-stretched power grid is already in need of an expensive upgrade.
“Experts fear failures that caused blackouts in New York, Boston and San Diego may become more common as the voracious demand for power continues to grow,” The Washington Post wrote last August. “They say it will take a multibillion-dollar investment to avoid them.”
Some states, like California, have plans to redesign large networks of electrical lines so they are more compatible with solar- and wind-powered plants, according to the Times, but this won’t happen overnight.
In the meantime, renewable energy has become backburner initiative for suppliers that are simply focused on preventing a grid collapse.
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