Extreme weather patterns attributed to a rapidly changing climate are straining our existing electricity grid. From raging wildfires out west, to powerful hurricanes, blizzards and cold spells on the east, there is constant pressure on our existing grid’s ability to reliably serve the needs of communities in today’s environment.
There is also opportunity for the grid to power the growth of renewable energy sources. Distributed clean energy resources like solar and wind are critical to our transition to a clean electricity grid.
The centralized electricity grid needs to become a relic of the past. We need to make our grid more resilient and responsive in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change and reduce the need for carbon-emitting electricity sources. Here’s why grid reliability is key to addressing climate change.
How does the electricity grid work?
Electricity generation used to be primarily centralized at power plants that ran on fossil fuels, like coal and natural gas. Once the electricity is generated, it’s transmitted and distributed to utility customers, through a vast network of power plants, distribution centers and transmission lines all leading to your home.
America’s power grid is an ancient one, dating back to as early as 1890. Much of its infrastructure used today, such as transmission and distributions lines, were built in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy. However, the growing demand for electricity today has overwhelmed the timeworn equipment, causing overloads to a century-old gird.
As we have seen across the country, centralized generation and an aging grid are not enough to weather the impacts of climate change. Without change, we could see more blackouts and more economic damage as weather patterns continue to shift and storms become stronger. And we cannot seize the opportunity to decarbonize the future with the present grid.
Luckily the U.S electricity system has been getting cleaner over the past decade with the help of renewable energy incentives being implemented across the nation. In fact, renewables as a whole reached 78% of 2020 electricity additions.
Renewables are also cheaper – distributed renewable energy resources like solar and wind can be inexpensive since they generate electricity at a closer proximity to homes and businesses, leading to fewer long power lines and other expensive grid structure required for centralized distribution.
The key here is the word “distributed”; moving to renewables also means moving away from a centralized power generator to a network of solar, wind, hydro and other power sources. This requires more coordination of centralized and distributed power resources by policymakers and utilities. It also requires transmission lines and substations that can handle more distributed generation. We need a smarter grid that can move electricity from where it’s being generated to where it’s needed most.
One approach that is becoming increasingly cost effective and growing in popularity is to combine renewable energy projects, like wind and solar, with battery storage. The combination of these technologies provides a blanket of reliability and obvious benefits to the environment. Power generated by these types of renewable projects can be stored and fed directly into the grid when power is not being generated or when demand is highest.
Improving the grid to house more renewable energy projects also mean harmonizing neighboring utility zones to better balance supply and demand loads, while creating better predictions of solar and wind energy output. That’s where batteries come into play. Battery storage helps manage the mismatch between supply and demand. Over the past five years, the price of batteries has fallen by about 80%, enabling integration of storage into renewable projects. Renewables and storage technologies hold a potential solution into grid reliability and climate change mitigation. And as more states implement higher percentages of power from renewable projects, there’s no doubt storage will play an important role by storing excess generation.
The power grid generally comes to public attention when there are large-scale failures, like outages caused by a storm. When Hurricane Maria devastated the already battered island of Puerto Rico, millions were left entirely without electricity. These natural disasters have demonstrated the importance of grid reliability and outage detection to restore power and improve safety for many individuals. It also has driven interest in microgrids for increased resiliency.
Microgrids are small-scale versions of a larger electrical grid that generate clean local energy directly to a community or group of users. Resilience is among one of many benefits of a microgrid as they can disconnect from the larger grid and restore power to a community as soon as an outage occurs. For areas that are hurricane-prone or susceptible to natural disasters, microgrids built on solar and storage can address both the need for increased resiliency and additional renewable energy sources.
Clean energy solutions are already powering communities across the nation, with renewables plus storage delivering safe, reliable backup power and year-round benefits. As climate-fueled extreme weather and infrastructure failures threaten our aging grid, ensuring resilience with distributed renewable energy, storage and microgrids is paramount. Interested in learning more on battery storage solutions for your business or project? Lean more here about Nexamp’s Energy Storage capabilities.