Not Grandpa’s Grid
I recently participated in a web colloquy with nuclear proponents about the future of baseload power (as represented by nuclear plants that have to operate around the clock) and the “problems” with integrating large amounts of renewable power into the grid. Their big bugaboo: variability. Renewable resources do not operate 24-7. They fluctuate in output based on the windiness or cloudiness of the weather. But neither does demand operate consistently over 24 hours. The variability of renewable power, they claim, means we have to build large amounts of back-up fossil generation to balance the renewable output with consumer demand. But scads of recent research and operating experience across the nation’s electrical interconnections tell a different story. So far variability has been no big deal, and as we add more and more renewable power the integration challenge can be managed by better coordination of the system and prudent use of generating resources.
Simply put, variability is not the intractable problem baseload power promoters imply. It is eminently manageable.
There is plenty of research that shows variability can be routinely and effectively managed. If you have to balance resources over a small geographic footprint and all your renewable generation is in one place you may have problems. To offset variability one needs to have resources with uncorrelated variability. In other words resources that operate at different times from each other. Distance matters when you are dealing with variability. The more distant the resources are from each other the less correlated their variability is. The wind is usually blowing someplace and a cloud does not cover the entire world at once.