The electrical production in the United States has been drastically shifting to sustainable sources over the past decade. Wind and solar production are going up while nuclear and coal-powered electrical generation plants are closing or on schedule for elimination.
For environmentalists, the news is welcome because it represents an enormous shift in policy. However, the energy industry doesn’t share their enthusiasm, and some are sending alarm signals that the system cannot continue to head in this direction.
Douglas Healy Advocates a Practical Approach
Douglas Healy is an expert in energy-related issues. In a rush to use wind turbines and solar power, electricity customers are dealing with higher rates and outages in larger metro areas. As demand rises and there are fewer traditional plants for backup, the issues could multiply rapidly.
Douglas Healy is practical and thinks that the energy policies should be the same. Without some safeguards in place, it’s possible to switch too much capacity to sustainable sources without taking into account a few issues. One of the biggest challenges is that energy demand doesn’t remain stagnant. Large towns continue to see a massive increase in demand for electricity, and they may struggle to keep up with solar and wind alone.
Intermittent Electrical Generation Is Not Reliable
Solar and wind are intermittent energy sources because they rely on stable weather conditions to maintain production. Weather is constantly changing, so there are times when using these types of power generators is prone to failure. Say what you will about nuclear and coal, but they are consistent producers of electrical energy. They reliably serve millions of customers who may end up with other options if the push for sustainability continues.
The push towards sustainable energy sources is a noble and worthwhile goal. Pursuing 100% sustainability remains a top priority but rushing to get there could create more problems than necessary.
Dallas Experience Is a Cautionary Tale
Activists are excited about how fast things are changing, but those in charge of the power grid worry the move is too much too soon. The recent outage in Dallas caused by wind turbine production problems is a prime example of why the step is worrisome.
When people had to deal with a colder than expect March last year, they cranked up their thermostats. This time, however, the wind turbines had a tough time keeping up with their demand because the wind was not blowing. It was a perfect storm culminating in poor timing due to two weather events, and it caused rates to skyrocket by up to 700%.
The trouble is that the same issue could happen anywhere and at any time. It also points out that in the face of higher demand, disabling coal and power plants may not be a prudent move. In events now, when sustainable energy plants can’t produce enough power, coal plants can make up the difference. With them out of business, there’s no more redundancy, and the risk to businesses and consumers alike becomes unmanageable.
Texas Is Facing Energy-Related Issues
Texas is a test case because the state already gets 25% of its energy from wind and solar. However, demand keeps rising, which makes experts wonder if that plan will work. If the state ever hits 100% from sustainable sources, the growth may end.
The problem is simple enough to understand but more complicated to solve. The wind doesn’t blow every single day all day. The sun is also not out 24 hours daily, so it’s unsuitable as an uninterruptible source of power. Businesses and consumers in Texas need that power to live their lives and run their operations. If they can’t count on it being there, it might be time to institute a backup plan.
The lack of ability to store power at the plant is a concern, especially with rising demands. Energy executives must supply their customers with a continuous supply of power, and they may not be able to guarantee that with wind and solar. Those plants can’t store excess capacity as readily due to current battery limitations, so they will always tie into the weather that day.
The currently accepted philosophy is that energy diversity is a better idea. It’s essential to have multiple sources of power, especially ones that create redundancy. On a grid filled only with solar and wind, the idea of constant outages becomes obvious. If the weather refuses to cooperate for long enough, a lack of power is the likely outcome. That can happen at any time.
Even natural gas is reaching its limits as a power producer. Power plants that run on natural gas need that fuel to flow constantly to their plants. However, those pipelines fill up during peak demand times. A recent example in Minnesota, Michigan, and Rhode Island showed that a Polar Vortex was able to put undue strain on the system. The only solution was for people to lower their thermostats, which is the last thing most people want to do when it’s freezing outside.
Incidents like this becoming commonplace worries the people in charge of the grid. Diversity, they insist, is the much smarter plan because it will make failures unlikely. Customers will have no problem getting their energy, no matter what happens because there are enough redundant sources.