Advances in renewable generation technologies, communications and controls, distributed generating technologies, and storage have laid the foundation for a customer-centric electricity system that is renewable, distributed, and resilient.
Operating existing electricity systems in nontraditional but proven ways can cost-effectively manage wind and photovoltaic power’s variability and uncertainty by four means: diversification in type and location, forecasting, integration with flexible generators and demand, and (if needed) real or virtual storage. Large thermal power plants are no longer the only nor the cheapest source of reliable power (the “baseload fallacy”), and their weak business case has triggered sharp declines in investment.
Hourly operability on a microgrid
The dynamic nature of variable resources presents challenges to conventional electricity systems operations, especially on a small grid. But if a microgrid has sufficient dispatchable supply- and demand-side resources and storage capacity, these can enable the integration of a large percentage of local variable renewable energy. Grid power can play a supporting role in balancing the microgrid, complementing the onsite resources, and allowing demand to be met throughout the year.
In Reinventing Fire
, Rocky Mountain Institute investigates the implications of four radically different future electricity scenarios - from a “business-as-usual” case to a network of intelligent microgrids powered largely by distributed renewables.
Number of electricity disturbances by cause, 1992–2009
There is some uncertainty in the reliability of the U.S. electricity system in a “business-as-usual” case. Although the U.S. electricity grid has a proven track record with conventional generation mixes, outages and grid disturbances are on the rise.