The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing that challenged widely held assumptions about renewable energy and the infrastructure needed to connect it to the grid. The Midwest’s steady winds could, in theory, power the entire country, according to an analysis conducted in 2010 by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and AWS Truewind, a consultancy. So could solar energy in the Southwest. Moreover, the transmission investments needed to tap the enormous potential of American renewable resources can make the grid more efficient and reliable at the same time. And renewable energy is increasingly competitive in some power markets with traditional fuels like gas and coal. At this briefing, various perspectives regarding the overall economics, capacity and reliability of integrating renewable energy into the grid were presented.
The briefing coincided with the release of a new report, The Potential Rate Effects of Wind Energy and Transmission in the Midwest ISO Region, commissioned by the Energy Future Coalition and produced by Synapse Energy Economics, which concludes that adding more wind power to the Midwest’s grid would place downward pressure on energy market prices and rates, even after factoring in the costs of the additional transmission needed to connect it. Traditional power plants face fuel prices that fluctuate dramatically over time and they must also address regulatory uncertainty and pollution control upgrades, whereas, for example, solar, wind, and geothermal power plants are not subject to such fuel price volatility. What mix of renewable resources and traditional resources is actually the most reliable and cost effective system to meet our energy needs and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?