The variability of renewable energy sources such as wind, often cited as the sector’s Achilles’ heel, does not have to be a problem, according to a new report from the National Grid.
National Grid, which owns and operates the electricity network in the UK, says that increased wind generation and large nuclear power stations are manageable and can be accommodated.
Critics of renewable energy claim that the intermittency of sources such as wind and solar will require significant – and potentially costly – balancing in the form of storage or extra back-up generation.
The report, which is now open for industry consultation, says new network technology could play a strong role in managing renewable energy variability instead of back-up generation alone.
“This most comprehensive view yet of how Britain could balance electricity supply and demand in the future moves the debate firmly beyond the simplistic view that we just need more back-up generation,” says Chris Bennett of National Grid.
Smart meters and grid would allow electricity demand to be actively managed – for example by automatically shifting demand to off-peak times. Smart grid technology could allow fridges and freezers in homes and businesses to turn on and off throughout the day to save energy.
Electric vehicles could also be used as a storage option or another block of demand that can be moved to off-peak times.
The report also cites other new technologies such as batteries and supercapacitors, which could make it much easier to store large quantities of electricity, and even large flywheels or compressed air.
Increasing interconnection with the rest of Europe could also have advantages, says the report, by allowing intermittency from wind power to be balanced over a much larger area.
Environmental and renewable energy groups have welcomed the report.
“It’s great that National Grid has produced a report that shows that variability need not be seen as a stumbling block in the journey towards a low carbon power sector,” says Keith Allott of WWF-UK.
“It knocks on the head the myth that large amounts of capacity of "hot" standby is the only way to deal with the variability of wind,” adds Maria McCaffery, chief executive of the British Wind Energy Association.
For further information:
European electricity grid needs overhaul (12-Jun)
National Grid calls for UK renewable energy ‘masterplan’ (25-Mar)
Investment of £4.7 billion urgently needed to upgrade UK grid (5-Mar)
Ofgem proposes grid overhaul to boost renewables (5-Jan)
European smart grid essential to boosting renewables (1-Dec 2008)
22 June 2009