The world is beginning to feel the numerous repercussions of climate change. Hence, it has become imperative that electric grids be redesigned to transition to cleaner, more sustainable sources of energy for power generation.
The United States has made some progress about this. Numerous initiatives are already being set in place to transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar for grid-sourced electric power. Indeed, the US renewable energy sector experienced considerable growth over the past year, beating its previous record of 33,000 MW generated through solar and wind-powered sources back in 2020.
Rethinking Technology Doomed for Obsolescence
While the electric grid was once considered one of the most inspired innovations of the 20th century, the way by which it operates is now doomed for obsolescence in the face of increased environmental concerns. This is mainly because the original operative basis for grids involves a combination of base-load coal-powered plants and hydropower. While nuclear power has been used to augment the output of traditional grids, these are not considered sustainable nor safe for the long term.
However, neither solar nor wind power have been seriously considered for powering large-scale electric grids for the longest time. This was because solar and wind power are considered variable resources which only provide power whenever the sun is out or the wind is blowing.
Three Innovative Methods
Nevertheless, researchers have hit upon three methods of harnessing solar and wind power for the grid.
Use storage through rechargeable lithium-ion batteries is one. With the price of this specific power storage option decreasing every year, they have become a feasible means to bring renewable power to the grid. It also helps that storage options are in development that are capable of larger power capacity.
Expanded transmission is another, particularly in the American Northeast, where peak electric demand occurs in the late afternoon and early evening when solar power can still be gleaned during sunset. Expanded transmission also allows wind farms, particularly large-scale generation farms, to send electricity throughout the country.
Finally, improving the energy use and power efficiency of buildings will also go a long way towards improving grid performance. Buildings, particularly those in central business districts, have been noted to use 74% of the electricity generated in the US.
Renewable energy experts say that the US will be able to operate power grids with up to 90% clean electricity, but decarbonizing the remainder will be a challenge. Considering the variable nature of the sources involved in generating clean electricity, specialists will have to consider a highly effective and efficient design for an expanded national transmission network, further bolstered by long-term power storage solutions.