The Department of Energy’s (DOE) grid study contains several important red flags to consider when determining what role solar and wind power will play in the future, a digital tech analyst told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The DOE’s study notes that green energy technology is not currently a problem for the electrical grid, but the agency’s report warns that solar and wind power could become a problem in the future if demand explodes, according to Mark Mills, an executive at tech-consulting organization Digital Power Group.
“If you were hoping for red meat that shows renewables kill coal, then you didn’t get any of that. If you were hoping to hear that the grid was in terrible shape, then you didn’t get that,” Mills said about the report, noting that the most important aspect of the report is what the DOE does not explain.
“They’ve given us a road sign,” he said, referring to the report’s insistence that the energy grid is continuing to change and evolve. “We don’t know what the future will hold, so being told that we don’t have enough information, should be a red flag.”
Mills cited several sections within the study to illustrate his point, including one paragraph that suggests “more work is needed to understand what can be done to maintain” grid resilience if solar and wind power continues to expand in the future.
“Solar and wind assets change the game, but they haven’t changed the game that much” during the past several years, Mills said. “The debate is in the future, though.”
The U.S. currently generates 0.9 percent of all electricity from solar power and 5.6 percent from wind, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. If that number increases above 30 percent, Mills noted, then lawmakers should expect the energy grid to take a debilitating body blow.
Mills pointed at South Australia as an example of a state within Australia that relies too heavily on solar and wind power at the expense of other energy sources such as coal and natural gas.
South Australia’s growing reliance on solar and wind power in the state “has not only led to a series of technical challenges,” but “also increased wholesale price volatility as the state rebalances its supply from dispatchable plant to intermittent generation,” Australia’s Energy Council noted last year.
Nearly 25 percent of homes in the state currently have solar panels installed, and the state gets 41 percent of its power from wind, solar and other green sources. Officials believe fluctuations in the supply of wind power have caused rolling brownouts and blackouts in South Australia. Mills believes the DOE’s report hints at a similar fate for the U.S. if lawmakers don’t take note of the risks.
DOE head Rick Perry pushed for the study in April based on the idea that coal provides a baseload level of support for the grid, which helps defray the risks that solar and wind power posed to the grid.
The final study appears to support at least part of Perry’s contention: coal has historically provided a consistent level of energy, whereas natural gas exists in a more volatile market and clean energy lacks consistency.
Analysts maintain that former President Barack Obama’s so-called war against the coal industry was the catalyst that led to the boom in natural gas. Excessive regulations during the Obama administration, they say, created an uptick in automation and a switch to natural gas.
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