Avoiding blackouts with 100% renewable grids
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Avoiding blackouts with 100% renewable grids

The consensus conclusion seems to be that most countries could get to c. 70% renewables “fairly easily”, but the last 10-30% is technically possible but the costs could be prohibitive.

Summary: For some, visions of a future powered by clean, renewable energy are clouded by fears of blackouts driven by intermittent electricity supplies. While these fears seem to be misplaced, we need to be realistic about both delivering 100% renewables (tough), and the cost (we need lots of storage, grid stability investment etc).

Why this is important: We need to prepare for a grid dominated by renewable generation, and because of the time it will take to set up new systems and to build the required infrastructure, we need to start now. We need to move away from "just" talking about building more renewables, to also talk about demand management, interconnectors, battery storage and grid resilience and stability.

The big theme: As the percentage of renewable electricity generation on the grid increases, the way we store and use electricity will need to change and change dramatically. This will be a massive disruption to the existing system. From an investing perspective, as well as the obvious question as to how big will wind and solar become, there is a much more interesting question - what supporting investments will we need to make to allow the electricity grid to run with a higher percentage of renewables. This is going to be a massive investment theme even if we don't hit 100% renewables.

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The details

Summary of a story from Stanford University

For some, visions of a future powered by clean, renewable energy are clouded by fears of blackouts driven by intermittent electricity supplies. Those fears are misplaced, according to a new Stanford University study that analyses grid stability under multiple scenarios in which wind, water and solar energy resources power 100% of U.S. energy needs for all purposes. The paper, just published in Renewable Energy, finds that an energy system running on wind, water and solar coupled with storage, avoids blackouts, lowers energy requirements and consumer costs, while creating millions of jobs, improving people’s health, and reducing land requirements.

Imagine all cars and trucks were powered with electric motors or hydrogen fuel cells, electric heat pumps replaced gas furnaces and water heaters, and wind turbines and solar panels replaced coal and natural gas power plants. The study envisions those and many more transitions in place across the electricity, transportation, buildings and industrial sectors in the years 2050. The scenario is not as far-fetched as it may seem, according to Jacobson and his co-authors. Wind, water and solar already account for almost 20% of US electricity, and 15 states and territories and more than 180 U.S. cities have enacted policies requiring a virtually all-renewable electricity sector, among other signs of a larger shift to clean, renewable energy.

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