A new study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce in coordination with the Midwest regional independent grid operator Mid-continent Independent System Operator (MISO) has found that the state of Minnesota could obtain 40% or more of its electricity from wind and solar energy without suffering any grid reliability issues.
The report, which builds on real-world situations like the states of Iowa and South Dakota generating more than 25% of their energy from wind during 2013, is another splash of cold water in the faces of those who attempt to dismiss renewable energy as being somehow impractical.
Minnesota currently derives 16% of its electricity from wind and solar energy, which means an increase to 40% would not only be a boost to the renewable energy industry, but would push the state towards 70% of its emissions reductions required from existing power plants under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
The primary finding from the report (PDF) is that “the addition of wind and solar (variable renewable) generation to supply 40 percent of Minnesota’s annual electric retail sales can be reliably accommodated by the electric power system.”
As states consider how to best reduce their pollution to comply with the EPA rule, the study’s results should reinforce what many utilities have already realized: wind energy is a reliable and cost-effective way to reduce emissions.
The integration of variable renewable energy’s into an existing grid has proven a sticking point as the industry attempts to grow. The assumption has been that an energy that is reliant upon specific conditions (eg, windy days, sunny days, etc) will only wreak havoc with systems that are built around consistent energy generation techniques (most fossil fuel technologies).
However, this recent report continues to place doubt on those basic assumptions.
Another report from earlier this year, conducted by GE’s Energy Consulting business, found that wind power can in fact substantially enhance grid resiliency when coupled with appropriate modern plant controls. According to the study — which looked at how the US grid would respond to a major event and still maintain its resiliency if wind power was added to the regular energy mix — wind energy was more effective than thermal generation in “controlling frequency on the grid due to its ability to respond more quickly.”
Research into grid technologies that enhance the introduction of renewable energy has been a hot topic this year, and a number of reports have been published that highlight how intelligent control systems can minimize the negative effects of variable energy generation.