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Report from Grid Integration of Renewables Conference at Stanford

By Andrew Longenecker, guest contributor 

 The TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy’s “Grid Integration of Renewables” conference, which took place at Stanford University’s Jen-Hsun Engineering Center on January 13, 2011, brought together professionals and students to discuss various aspects of the integration of intermittent sources of power to the grid. The conference facilitated the discussion on technological, political, and international perspectives, bringing together a variety of views to create a comprehensive perspective on a very important problem.

Jeff Bingaman, US Senator from New Mexico, where he is Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure, opened the conference with his keynote speech. He first noted the importance of taxes for support for renewable energy (estimating that 80% of renewable energy support comes in the form of taxes) and indicated concern that these were not permanent features of the industry, as the Production Tax Credit (PTC) expires in 2012 and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) expires in 2016. In discussing what to expect for the next two years, Bingaman was cautious, noting three separate “things to keep in mind”: there is a politically polarized environment (and upcoming election in 2012), there is strong ideological resistance to active government role in the transition of our economy to a clean economy, and there is an adverse budget situation, causing difficulties in finding the money to maintain spending on tax programs. He noted that there is an opportunity for a “clean energy standard” instead of a “renewable energy standard,” but cautioned against supporting “clean energy standards” that are simply veiled proposals designed to cut the current renewable energy programs.

Jeffrey Byron, appointed to the California Energy Commission by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in June 2006 who served as Presiding Member of the Energy Commission’s Research, Development, and Demonstration Committee and is a member of numerous other energy-related committees, gave the second keynote speech of the conference. He had an optimistic perspective of California’s accomplishments to date, particularly in regards to the prospect of reaching the target of 33% renewables by 2020. However, he acknowledged that there are challenges: lack of legally established renewable portfolio standards, no real-time pricing, lagging on renewables goals (e.g., California did not make its 20% renewables goal), and a lack of sophisticated thought about procurement of electricity in California. Further, he viewed the energy structure in California to be overly complicated, with too many stakeholders with overlapping jurisdictions and coordination issues. He emphasized the need to seek greater collaboration among constituents (e.g., electricity imports from neighbors), continue cost improvements, revise interconnection standards to pass costs accurately among stakeholders; create a path toward putting all generation on equal footing, and to improve the measurement of the grid. He closed his speech by emphasizing that people and policies really do matter and encouraging everyone to demand more from their government representatives. His view is that the United States and the world are looking to California’s leadership to develop the clean technologies and policies that the world will use.

The rest of the conference included speakers and panel discussions covering a broad range of topics. There sessions represented a wide variety of backgrounds, ranging from utilities (e.g., PG&E), academia (e.g., Stanford University, University of Delaware), government and non-profit institutions (e.g., NREL, Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies), international perspectives (including professors from Germany, the United Kingdom, and Denmark), and startups like SunPower. One frequently mentioned topic was the need for flexibility in the grid in order for renewables to prosper. Speakers mentioned numerous potential sources for grid flexibility, such as automated demand response programs, dynamic pricing (which may come to California as early as 2013 for residential customers), renewable imports from neighboring areas (as well as intra-hour scheduling of renewable imports), smart charging of electric vehicles, and of course, storage. Debbie Lew from NREL shared two interesting examples of areas with large renewable shares (around ~30% renewables) that experienced significant difficulties in managing loads. Drastically increased volatility from wind intermittency, as well as significantly lowered minimum loads, caused massive problems for the system (e.g., cycling and ramping schedules for conventional plants, increased complication in load management). However, speakers were generally optimistic on the significant opportunities in solving these problems, particularly in California’s leadership on the issue.

Please note that presentations from the conference will be posted at http://tomkat.stanford.edu