NREL Says Wind Energy Boosts Grid Reliability

by Silvio Marcacci

We’ve all heard the warnings about how intermittent renewables could “crash” the grid if for instance all of a sudden the wind stops blowing and grid operators are left in the lurch for power when they need it. But what if wind turbines actually improve grid reliability?

May sound far-fetched to some people, but that’s exactly what the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reports in the new study Active Power Controls from Wind Power: Bridging the Gaps.

Previous studies have focused on wind energy forecasting as the key to balancing wind’s availability and the power grid’s demand, but this new hypothesis could vastly expand the relationship between wind turbines and the grid.

Wind farm in the snow. Image via CleanTechnica
The U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) says that wind power helps grid stability. Netherlans wind farm in the snow image via CleanTechnica. Image by T.W. van Urk on Shutterstock.
How Does Wind Perform With The Grid?

NREL undertook the study with the Electric Power Research Institute, an organization comprised of more than 1,000 members (most of whom are electric utilities) and the University of Colorado, so renewable energy naysayers will be hard pressed to dismiss this study as an environmentalist pipe dream.

Analysts studied multiple power system simulations, control simulations, and field tests at NREL’s National Wind Technology Center to determine how if wind could provide ancillary services in wholesale electricity markets, how wind farms affect system frequency in the Western U.S. grid system, and if using wind farms to actively provide power control to the grid affects turbine performance and structural integrity.

And the outcome of all these studies? Wind energy can not only support the grid by ramping power output up and down to enhance system reliability, but that using wind farms to provide active power control is economically beneficial, all with negligible damage to the turbines themselves.

Wind Energy, Making The Grid Stronger and Cheaper

These are potentially game-changing findings. “The study’s key takeaway is that wind energy can act in an equal or superior manner to conventional generation when providing active power control, supporting the system frequency response, and improving reliability,” said Erik Ela, NREL analyst.

Active power control helps grid operators balance system demand with generation at various times throughout the day, helping prevent power flow above or below the ideal grid frequency and involuntary load shedding – preventing both potential blackouts and turbine damage.

Making America’s grid more flexible and integrating renewables is an important imperative. Without long-overdue transmission system investments, grid operators are often forced to use high-cost (and typically fossil fuel) “peaker” power plants when demand surges or baseload power plants go offline.

Intermittency Mitigated By Recent Developments

The traditional issue facing wind energy in this context is that it can’t be “turned on” by grid operators whenever they need it. Unless the wind is blowing, turbines can’t generate electricity.

But wind has shown its chops in helping keep the lights on as extreme weather has hit the U.S. in recent memory – just consider the fact that wind energy was credited with preventing blackouts in Texas and parts of the Midwest when the polar vortex spiked power demand and forced some power plants offline.

NREL’s report also notes that almost all grid operators across the U.S., as well as many power systems outside the areas covered by regional grids, are using wind farms in dispatch procedures to manage transmission congestion at five-minute intervals – meaning it’s now a generation resource to be dispatched (for free) when needed.

“Utilities and independent system operators are all seeking strategies to better integrate wind and other variable generation into their electric systems,” said Ela. “Few have considered using wind power to support power system reliability.”

Wind energy has become one of the fastest-growing sources of electricity in America, and it’s a critical source of generation if we’re going to decarbonize our economy and slow climate change. With NREL’s report, perhaps grid operators will start to see wind energy as an energy system imperative, not just an environmental imperative.

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This article, Forget Intermittency: NREL Says Wind Energy Can Boost Grid Reliability, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci Silvio Marcacci Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

NREL Software Could Cut Commercial Building Energy Audit Costs 75%

by Silvio Marcacci

simuwatt tablet display image via NREL
simuwatt tablet display image via NREL

These days, there’s an app for pretty much everything. From gaming to home energy management, tasks are done on handheld devices through the cloud. So why are energy audits still stuck on clipboards and pencils?

Good news – by next year, commercial building energy audits will finally join the 21st century thanks to the simuwatt Energy Auditor, a new tablet-based software package developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and software company concept3D that could cut audit costs by up to 75%

It may seem like insignificant news, but simuwatt could streamline this laborious process through computer modeling, find new ways to boost energy efficiency, and save commercial buildings millions of dollars every year.

Make Energy Audits More Efficient To Make Buildings More Efficient

Commercial buildings in America represent 7% of the world’s total energy consumption and use roughly $134 billion in electricity to power all those computers, heating and ventilation systems, and lights.

All that power means commercial buildings are huge targets for increased energy efficiency, but until now the process of finding the right upgrades for each building has been inefficient, with audits for many buildings often costing more than potential savings from energy improvements.

Enter simuwatt. Energy auditors will now be able to perform audits on mobile tablets and upload results into cloud-based servers for advanced energy modeling results and recommendations in almost real time. “Its software-guided workflow allows customers to double their audit capacity,” said Oliver Davis, CEO of concept3D. “More audits mean more retrofit work, more revenue, and more efficient buildings.”

Combining The Best Of NREL & DOE Technology

The software seems like a no-brainer, but it’s the result of NREL combining several ideas already in use across federal government facilities. NREL has traditionally conducted audits for the Defense Department, State Department, and National Park Service, and simuwatt combines the best results of years of practice.

For instance, the Department of Energy’s EnergyPlus tool is integrated to run simulations that determine energy flow, while NREL’s OpenStudio combines with concept3D’s geometry capture software to create a detailed 3D model of each building as auditors walk through it to analyze energy savings from potential improvements.

A user could pose the question: “Does it make economic sense to retrofit windows in this building?” The response from simuwatt Energy Auditor might be something like “Yes, if it is more than three stories high and at least 40 years old and if you use these kinds of windows.” If that’s not in the budget, then the user can change one parameter and see what difference it makes for the bottom line.

The software can also help lower solar soft costs through features like assessing the capacity of a roof for adding solar panels or perform additional time-saving tasks like calculating the value of replacing lighting fixtures all in one program, instead of farming work out to multiple contractors.

simuwatt energy audit
simuwatt energy audit image via NREL

Defense Department Testing Before Full Launch

NREL will now test the software in real-world settings by using it to audit 18 buildings across 6 Defense Department bases in Colorado, Texas, California, South Carolina, and Florida.

Once those results are in, analysts will have a better sense of simuwatt’s potential to make auditing and commercial businesses more efficient. and will release the software to the energy auditing industry. “The hope is that by lowering costs, you can not only get deeper savings but also get into more buildings,” said Andrew Parker of NREL.

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This article, NREL Software Could Cut Commercial Building Energy Audit Costs 75%, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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Obtaining 25% Of Energy From Renewables Would Save Billions

by AWEA

Originally published on the American Wind Energy Association website
By Michael Goggin

The Western U.S. could reap huge benefits in pollution savings and reduced spending on fossil fuels by installing more wind and solar power plants, according to a comprehensive new analysis released today by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The study found that obtaining 25 percent of electricity in the Western U.S. from renewable energy will reduce carbon dioxide pollution by up to 34 percent and save $7 billion annually in fossil fuel costs.

The NREL report also conclusively puts to rest the fossil fuel industry myth that wind energy’s pollution savings are smaller than expected because fossil-fired power plants run at lower efficiency when wind is generating electricity. Even at the very high level of renewable energy use examined in the report, the impact on the efficiency of fossil-fired power plants was found to be “negligible,” reducing the carbon emissions reduction benefits of wind and solar by only 0.2 percent, so that on net wind and solar produced 99.8 percent of the expected emissions savings.

A chief reason for the study’s findings is that electric utility system operators can reliably and efficiently integrate wind and solar energy using the same tools they have used for more than a century to accommodate large swings in electricity demand as well as abrupt failures at conventional power plants. Dozens of studies have demonstrated that wind and solar energy only slightly add to total power system variability, and that most changes in wind and solar output are cancelled out by much larger opposite changes in supply and demand. System operators in the Midwest and Texas have each been able to integrate more than 10,000 megawatts of wind energy with only very small increases in their need for operating reserves.

As shown above, the study found that one megawatt-hour of wind energy, the amount produced by a typical wind turbine approximately every 90 minutes, saves 1190 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution on average, equivalent to the amount produced by a cross-country drive in a fuel-efficient car. As indicated below, the negative impact on the efficiency of fossil-fired power plants reduced those carbon dioxide savings by only 2.4 pounds, the amount produced by a typical drive to the grocery store.

Some representatives for competing energy sources have spent years propagating the myth that wind energy’s emissions savings are less than expected, despite having no peer-reviewed analysis to support their claims and being contradicted by all independent grid operator data and analysis. It is simple economics and science that wind energy directly displaces the output of the most expensive power plant, which is almost always the least efficient fossil-fired power plant

Some advocates for competing energy sources have even called for an analysis based on real-world data from emission monitors at power plants. With today’s study they got it, though they may not like the results. It is now impossible for anti-clean energy advocates to continue sticking their heads in the sand denying the reality of wind’s environmental benefits.

Today’s study used real-world hourly emissions data from nearly every power plant in the Western U.S. and was reviewed by 55 experts including representatives from eight utilities. The analysis of wind’s impact on fossil-fired power plants was largely conducted by engineers at Intertek who specialize in optimizing the operation of power plants for utility clients.

Today’s study also produced an interesting result with regard to the cost of cycling conventional power plants. For two of the three natural gas price scenarios analyzed, wind and solar energy (shown below as HiMix) actually reduced the total costs associated with cycling conventional power plants, and in the other scenario those costs only amounted to 0.5 percent to about 2 percent of the $7 billion in annual fuel cost savings produced by wind and solar energy. In addition, previous work by NREL and others has demonstrated that the addition of any new low-marginal-cost energy source, whether a new nuclear, coal, or wind plant, would lead to the same result of additional cycling at existing power plants.

NREL’s report is available here.

Photo Credit: David K. Clarke

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This article, Obtaining 25% Of Energy From Renewables Would Save Billions, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

AWEA The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is the voice of wind energy in the U.S., promoting renewable energy to power a cleaner, stronger America. Keep up with all the latest wind industry news at: http://www.aweablog.org/blog/

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Production Scale (Not Cheap Labour) Gives China Solar Advantage

by U.S. Energy Information Administration

Chinese solar modules at Perovo Solar Park
Image Credit: Zachary Shahan / CleanTechnica (CC BY-SA license)

Originally published on the US Department of Energy Website

Production scale, not lower labor costs, drives China’s current advantage in manufacturing photovoltaic (PV) solar energy systems, according to a new report released on September 5 by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Although the prevailing belief is that low labor costs and direct government subsidies for PV manufacturing in China account for that country’s dominance in PV manufacturing, the NREL/MIT study shows that a majority of the region’s competitive advantage comes from production scale—enabled, in part, through preferred access to capital (indirect government subsidies) —and resulting supply-chain benefits. The study’s findings suggest that the current advantages of China-based manufacturers could be reproduced in the United States.

Assessing the Drivers of Regional Trends in Solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing” co-authored by NREL and MIT, and funded by the Energy Department through its Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Energy & Environmental Science. By developing manufacturing cost models, the team of researchers examined the underlying causes for shifts from a global network of manufactures to a production base that is now largely based in China. The study shows that China’s historical advantage in low-cost manufacturing is mainly due to advantages of production scale, and is offset by other country-specific factors, such as investment risk and inflation. The authors also found that technology innovation and global supply-chain development could enable increased manufacturing scale around the world, resulting in broader, subsidy-free PV deployment and the potential for manufacturing price parity in most regions.

See the Energy Department Progress Alert and the complete report.

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This article, Production Scale (Not Cheap Labour) Gives China Solar Advantage, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

U.S. Energy Information Administration — the EIA collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.

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Excerpts from the Center for American Progress Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

by John Brian Shannon

“Developing just 54 gigawatts of offshore wind in Atlantic waters would generate $200 billion in economic activity and create 43,000 permanent, well-paid technical jobs, in addition to displacing the annual output of 52 coal-fired power plants.” — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

I have selected excerpts from this report, which you can read below. I suggest you read or download the entire report in PDF form, click here:

Excerpts from the Southeast: Energy efficiency and smart grid

The Southeast, a region historically dependent on fossil fuels, has become a leader in the emerging field of smart-grid technology—which is at the center of the impending wholesale modernization of our electric infrastructure. An enhanced commitment to regional smart-grid innovation, manufacturing, and deployment, coupled with a robust plan to address the region’s traditional energy efficiency shortfall, point to an economic and environmental boon. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

• The Southeast boasts more firms across the high-tech smart-grid value chain than any other region. Continuing to lead this transition offers the opportunity to create jobs across a range of skill-levels and fields; to diversify existing companies and to build new ones; to improve quality of life by connecting home, utility, renewable, and vehicle technology; and to reap the environmental and cost-saving benefits of using our resources more efficiently. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

• At the same time, addressing the region’s serious shortfall in implementing conventional energy efficiency policies provides a tremendous and complementary economic and environmental opportunity. A study by Georgia Tech and Duke University showed the potential to cut energy use across the region by 16 percent in 2030. This would result in annual consumer savings of $71 billion and lead to the creation of 520,000 jobs by 2030. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

Excerpts from the Midwest: Advanced Vehicles

The auto industry revival that is taking place in the Midwest is proof that states and the nation prosper when we make energy choices that take the American people, our economy, and our outdoor heritage forward together. Having recovered from near bankruptcy less than three years ago, the auto industry is now profitable, sales are rebounding, and fuel-economy projections have exceeded expectations. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

In addition to revitalizing American manufacturing, the deep oil savings from vehicles being built now under strong new fuel-economy standards will mean net savings to consumers of more than $54 billion a year in 2030 and will add 570,000 jobs to the economy. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

Excerpts from Mountain West: Wind and solar development and distribution

The Mountain West is experiencing firsthand the economic and environmental benefits of transitioning to low-carbon energy sources. Continuing this shift will be critical—the West is already experiencing serious damage from climate change and would face an even grimmer future if the nation turns its back on clean renewable energy in favor of a continued reliance on dirty fuels. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

• The West boasts nearly unlimited renewable energy resources—particularly wind, solar, and geothermal—that promise a brighter economic future than is possible with fossil fuels. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory identified 11,788 megawatts of nonhydro renewable energy projects either under construction or in advanced development in the region. Using the Electric Power Research Institute’s estimates of jobs per megawatt, these projects represent 71,872 jobs. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

Excerpt from the Pacific Coast: Solar power innovation and installation

The Pacific Coast and the adjoining western states are referred to as the “sun belt” for a reason. Capitalizing on that abundant solar resource is paying huge dividends for the region—providing jobs, spurring new industries, and spawning new innovative technologies. Abundant resources and aggressive renewable energy standards, including incentives for both utility-scale and small-scale rooftop solar, position the region to build on its current status as a national leader in solar energy installation and generation. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

• The solar industry in California has experienced significant growth over the past 15 years. Since 1995 the number of solar businesses grew by 171 percent, and total employment jumped by 166 percent. As a point of comparison, the total number of California businesses has grown by 70 percent, and employment has increased by 12 percent. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

To read or download the entire report in PDF form, click here.