Electric Cars, Renewable Energy, and the Smart Grid - A Powerful Partnership
We are all aware of the benefits of renewable energy. When compared to fossil fuel burning energy sources, they have a significantly lower carbon footprint. Since wind and sunshine are free and readily available domestically, it's logical to pursue an increased reliance on renewable energy production.
While the costs of producing renewable energy are more than some people might imagine, those costs tend to be more frontloaded in the expense of manufacturing, transporting and installing the equipment, such as massive wind turbines. Those costs could be brought down over time, however, through economies of scale. One of the significant drawbacks of renewable energy is the unpredictability and inconsistency of output. The wind blows when the wind blows and doesn’t when it doesn’t. You can make longer term estimates based on geography and seasonality, but hour by hour, day by day it’s unpredictable. Sudden changes in production from wind and solar farms can result in “ramping events.”
For example, if the wind quickly intensifies, the amount of electricity generated by the wind turbines rapidly increases, injecting excess energy into the power grid. As a result, grid operators quickly “ramp down” the power generation from other sources in order to prevent the system, which can only accommodate a finite amount of electricity, from collapsing. Likewise, a sudden and dramatic decrease in the wind can force the grid operators to quickly “ramp up” power supply by bringing extra generators online — and they only have a matter of minutes to complete this maneuver.
What is needed is an efficient, inexpensive way of storing the electricity produced by wind and solar plants so that electricity can be stored when production is high and released when production is low.
The need for this storage capability is growing stronger every day. The cost of oil, natural gas and coal is on the rise, and it’s having a direct impact on the cost of electricity for our homes and businesses. For example, the price of electricity in Dallas, Texas has rising 8% since the start of the year, and electricity rates in Houston are up 10 percent.Continued on the next page