Heat pumps powered by wind and solar?
Credit: Matthew Henry on unsplash

Heat pumps powered by wind and solar?

As the percentage of renewables on our grids grows, we need to think differently about how we use and store electricity - part of the answer is better matching supply & demand

Summary: An Institute of Engineering and Technology paper studies the role of system flexibility in accommodating more wind and solar including how and when energy is consumed, storage and hybrid approaches.

Why this is important: Much of the analysis of our future electricity system that we read assumes that just building lots of renewables (wind and solar) will "fix" the decarbonisation challenge, and/or that the electricity system of the future will operate pretty much as it does now. So, a focus on supply. To be fair, part of this seems to be driven by our love of simple stories - in this case decarbonising supply. This analysis is only partly right, yes, we need more renewables, but we also need more investment in electricity system stability and flexability.

The big theme: As the percentage of renewable electricity generation on the grid increases, the way we think about and use electricity will change. Unlike fossil fuels, wind and solar have a very low marginal cost of supply. This is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing as we will have periods of very cheap electricity. It's a curse because this can make it harder for investors in renewables to earn their target rate of return. There is a massive opportunity for investors to use technology and innovative approaches to overcome this challenge.

The details

Summary of a research paper from the Institution of Engineering & Technology:

As our electricity systems transition towards higher shares of renewables, especially wind and solar, the need for additional levels of system flexibility increases. Some of this can come from energy consuming sectors, such as transport and heating as they shift to electricity power from fossil fuels. Flexibility measures studied include hybrid heating in domestic and industrial processes, the smart charging of electric vehicles, renewable hydrogen & power to ammonia, peak shaving demand response, and batteries.

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