Why Letting Renewable Energy Generation outrun the Grid Infrastructure is a Bad Idea?
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
As ever increasing share of renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar) are being connected to our electricity networks the call for upgrading and redesigning power grid or network for distribution of electricity is getting stronger by the day because traditional power network initially designed for much simpler one direction flow of electricity from large fossil fuel powered plants to passive consumers is no longer fit for handling the complex electricity flows.
And it’s just the beginning because current electricity system getting complex with every passing day as thousands of new agents which never existed are entering the picture (such as large-scale intermittent renewable energy generation and growing amounts of distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar panels, small-scale wind turbines, electrolysers, batteries and even electric vehicles etc.). Therefore, it is clear that our grid infrastructure would require significant amounts of innovation and investment in order to handle these complex electricity flows and enable these thousands of new agents to transact safely with each other seamlessly.
But the problem is that people and media landscape usually tend to put too much focus on the production and consumption of electricity, often neglecting the middle and the most critical component of the process: the network for the distribution of electricity. I say so, because I have seen media landscape awash with stories about renewable energy generation technologies and EV growth while a crucial point as network for connecting the two (renewable energy generation technologies and EV) often missed.
The point I am trying to make here is that if we really want to maximize the potential of these new clean energy technologies coming to market then we will have to start taking seriously the infrastructure that carries electricity just as much as the assets used to produce it.
Now, let’s talk about some example what could go wrong if the infrastructure that carries energy is unable to keep up with unabated growth of renewable energy generation. Germany’s Green Energy Meltdown could be the perfect example to demonstrate the challenges of renewable energy generation outrunning the grid infrastructure. If you follow energy landscape of Germany, you would know that Germany often makes headlines for its impressive renewable power achievements. But the reality on the ground is a bit different, for instance, as Germany experienced last year. Despite an exceptionally windy winter in which the country’s offshore windfarms generated record levels of output, its grid was unable to deliver large amounts of electricity to the large population centres in the South.
Furthermore, this saturation of excess energy resulted in negative power prices, forcing the grid operator to pay consumers to use excess power and generators in neighbouring countries to curtail energy production to stop the grid from being overwhelmed.
Therefore, it is important to understand that renewable energy generational goals of many countries are admirable, but the increasing renewable energy technologies in the world’s energy mix need a grid system that is capable of handling that capacity in order to truly maximize their potential.
I think these events in Germany have warned policymakers and utilities in many countries around the globe to continue to spur the growth of renewable generation unabated but must also consider the need for parallel investments in grid infrastructure to anticipate and address these problems, developing innovations that foster smarter, more flexible and efficient grids.