Renewable Energy’s Potential May Be Understated

By Gabriel Kahn, The Wall Street Journal

In February 2013, California energy officials sat down with power-industry executives to figure out how to avert an approaching calamity: The rapid rollout of wind and solar electricity was stressing the state’s grid. The more renewable energy California added, the more its power supply could be whipsawed by a cloudy day or a windy storm. Some at the meeting warned that problems, such as rolling brownouts, could start to show up later that year.

Those same worries were being echoed across the county as state authorities struggled to load aging electricity grids with ever-greater amounts of renewable power. At the time, renewable energy accounted for about 14% of California’s electricity output. Today, California often gets as much as 30% of its power from renewables; there are periods of the day when production can soar to 40%. California legislators just approved a plan that would require half of all power to come from renewables by 2030. Still, the tipping point the power industry feared hasn’t materialized.

The experience of California and other states with high concentrations of solar and wind is challenging long-held assumptions about the limits of renewable energy. As the boundary of what is considered possible expands, so does the momentum around investment in new technology and resources. Plenty of risks still remain. But the fact that the grid has been able to handle more renewables than previously thought is driving massive changes through the industry. One of the places it is being felt most acutely is among utilities.

Read full article in the Wall Street Journal

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