Power Utilities Study Grid Impact of Renewables With DOE Grants

Source: By Daniel Moore, Bloomberg News • Posted: Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Major utilities and manufacturers including Consolidated Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, and General Electric Renewable Energy will receive federal funding to test clean energy technologies that keep the power grid reliable amid the rollout of wind and solar generation.

The Energy Department plans to award a total of $26 million in federal funding for eight projects at 15 sites in 13 states and Puerto Rico, according to an announcement shared with Bloomberg Law. 

The new Solar and Wind Grid Services and Reliability Demonstration program, which the department plans to announce Wednesday, tasks companies, laboratories and universities with assessing how wind and solar plants can more reliably transmit clean energy.

The studies come as the US electric grid relies more on wind, solar, and large-scale batteries and the Biden administration strives to achieve a decarbonized power sector by 2035. 

Wind and solar plants generate 15% of the country’s electricity today on average throughout the year, and there are times when those resources surpass 50% of the power generation in certain areas, said Becca Jones-Albertus, director of DOE’s Solar Energies Technologies Office.

“Getting to the president’s goal of a clean grid by 2035 requires us to do many things, including deploying a lot more clean energy,” Jones-Albertus told Bloomberg Law.

Wind and solar energy could provide as much as 80% of generation on a power grid with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035, according to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study published last year. 

To prepare to manage that system, the department wants to gather “early learning, like we’re doing through this funding opportunity, and how we can operate a grid that looks quite different with a lot more wind, solar, and battery storage than we have today,” Jones-Albertus said.

The projects backed by the department focus on research into harnessing the capabilities of inverters, components that connect renewable power to the grid. Inverters have different qualities compared with fuel-burning power plants, which use steam to spin a turbine generator. But they carry the same grid reliability benefits, such as voltage and frequency control, Jones-Albertus said.

Con Edison received $3 million to implement transmission protection strategies in New York and Virginia designed to result in fewer outages as the grid relies more on inverter-based generation. 

GE Renewable Energy received $3.5 million to demonstrate that inverters at a wind plant in Iowa can be integrated into the grid. The project will “encourage confidence in grid operators to consider wind power plants as a more flexible stand-alone resource that can provide grid services over extended periods of time,” the DOE press release said.

Pacific Gas & Electric got $2.5 million to develop an automated tool for utility engineers to address rapid changes in the electric grid, such as increased solar generation. The tool, if successful, can be used by transmission utilities and system operators nationwide, the DOE said.

Portland General Electric Company in Oregon received $4.5 million to demonstrate the first US energy center to combine wind, solar, and energy storage systems in one location.

Other recipients include: the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory; the Electric Power Research Institute; the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Veritone, Inc.

The studies come as power grid operators have aired concerns in recent years that the rapid deployment of wind and solar, which dispatch power at different times of day depending on sunshine and wind speed, will lead to reliability shortfalls. 

Wind and solar plants are replacing closures of coal and nuclear plants—which can run at any time of day as long as there is fuel—at a rate that creates reliability challenges, all five US energy regulators told Congress last week.

But the rise of renewable energy, as well as customer-owned energy technologies, could challenge the security of the power grid, the department warned last year. The NREL study found that continued funding of new technologies was necessary to integrate renewables.

On Tuesday, the Energy Information Administration’s short-term outlook found “significant growth” in wind and solar generation this summer, and the wet winter in California and the Western US should also increase electricity generated from hydropower during the coming months.

“The increasing share of renewables in the US generation mix is a major feature of our electricity forecast this summer and through 2024,” Joe DeCarolis, EIA’s administrator, said in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Moore in Washington at dmoore1@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bloombergindustry.com; JoVona Taylor at jtaylor@bloombergindustry.com