As variable renewables gain ever-larger shares of the grid power supply mix, integrating them on the grid is raising new questions about the best ways to do it. Storage systems are one obvious answer, but their deployment as utility-scale assets is still in the early days. Right now, if a utility-scale solar plant is producing more power than the grid can use, and there isn’t a storage system available to absorb the excess, the standard procedure is to curtail the plant — just turn it off. It hurts the revenues of plant owners, but at least it won’t damage the grid.
But now there are some new ways to the problem of integrating more variable renewables: Make them flexible! Instead of always running wind and solar plants full bore, or curtailing them, just turn them down a bit. Or make them completely flexible, able to ramp up and down at will, after deliberately providing enough room on their host grids to allow that.
Our guest in this episode is an expert on the subject who has helped the California Independent System Operator, or CAISO, think about new, flexible modes of operation for solar plants. It’s a very geeky and oftentimes technical interview, but we know the grid geeks who listen to this show will love it!
Arne Olson is a Senior Partner with E3, an energy consultancy based in San Francisco. He’s an expert in bulk electric system operations and the investment needs brought about by expanding clean and renewable energy production. He has consulted extensively for utilities, electricity system operators, asset owners, project developers, electricity consumers, and regulators. In 2013 he led the technical analysis and drafting of the landmark report, Investigating a Higher Renewables Portfolio Standard for California, prepared for the five largest utilities in California, documenting the challenges of and solutions for achieving a 50 percent renewable grid in California by 2030. Arne has 25 years of experience in energy analysis, and he is a frequent speaker at energy conferences on the role renewable energy will play in decarbonizing the grid. Prior to joining E3 in 2002, he served for six years in the Energy Policy Division of the Washington State Energy Office and its successor agencies.
On Twitter: @ArneOlsonE3
On the Web: Arne Olson’s page at E3
Recording date: December 10, 2018
Air date: January 23, 2019
Geek rating: 10