Energy 101: Renewables v. The Grid Event Summary

Our own Thomas Lee led the latest installment in Wharton Energy’s Energy 101: Renewables vs. The Grid. The future of renewable energy is limited not so much by generation capacity, but more so by complicated aspects like transmission, storage, and dispatchability. As Thomas pointed out, there has actually been a rapid expansion of renewable capacity, driven by fallen costs, generous policies, and advances in financing. In some political spheres there are exceptionally ambitious targets for renewable production: Austria, Denmark, and Nicaragua are all international examples while the state of Hawaii and the Sanders campaign’s national platform are domestic ones. While this may seem rosy for the more environmentally conscious, such boons are only problems to come for the cynically minded. The argument is that the grid as it currently exists may not be ready for the new cycles and strains presented by renewable sources of electricity. While the incident was not related to renewables, the 2003 Northeast Blackout, which impacted 45 million Americans in 8 states, as well as 10 million in Ontario, was presented as an example of how exceptionally the grid can fail when subjected to excess stress. In response, Thomas proposed that there must be a diverse portfolio of energy sources to meet total demand, broken down into baseload, dispatchable, and renewable. The final, parting lesson was that additional renewable capacity does not necessarily guarantee a decrease in reliability or a specific change in price, as was proven by Germany’s Energiewende (Energy Transition), which has shifted national electricity generation towards renewables and has seen a 38% increase in grid reliability, a decrease in wholesale electricity prices, and an increase in price at the retail level. Thanks to all those who joined us and to Thomas for an incredible presentation. Be sure to join us for our final Energy 101 on Tuesday, April 12: Energy Storage and Fuel Cells.