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Superpower

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Outside of the utility field commentators love to talk about the impending renewable energy revolution. Solar and wind technologies have advanced so much and become so cheap in the last decade, they claim, that there’s no longer any reason our societies can’t easily abandon fossil fuels and nuclear. Experts, however, know that such a switch would be painful, if not completely impossible. Reliability is king, and neither wind nor solar are all that reliable. What’s more, hybrid grids, ones that pull from a slew of different energy sources, are hampered by a unique set of problems. 

Everything mentioned above, and much more, is highlighted in Wall Street Journal energy reporter Russell Gold’s new book, Super Energy. Although it’s a work of non-fiction, the story follows protagonist Michael Skelly, an early renewables entrepreneur.  Skelly, who had spent time as a peace corps volunteer in Costa Rica, went to Harvard Business School in the 1990’s intent on creating a no tie, no office career for himself. He’d return Central America and start a successful jungle tour business before ultimately coming home to set up wind farms. 

Skelly’s power plants were good, but it was hard to transport that energy to target markets. However, the fledgling energy pioneer had a solution: build new interstate transmission lines. Well, although the idea was sound, it wasn’t easy to execute. Long story short, local utilities were not interested in collaborating with him for the greater good. They, at least in this account, were uninterested in anything that didn’t promise a direct, short-term benefit to them. 

It’s fascinating to hear about the grid problems renewable hopefuls ran into some 20 years ago...not much has changed.

Henry Craver's picture

Thank Henry for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 15, 2019 11:48 am GMT

Henry-- we actually published an interview with Russell Gold on Energy Central back in June. Anyone interested can see it here: https://www.energycentral.com/c/cp/russell-gold-and-his-new-book-%E2%80%9Csuperpower-one-man%E2%80%99s-quest-transform-american

One quote I would highlight shows that he is more optimistic that transmission bulidout and energy storage can help renewables overcome issues with intermittency: 

We’re already seeing some storage solutions, but so far those are mainly intended to replace for older, expensive peaker plants.

There has been a lot of research done on how to integrate 30%, 40%, 50% (and more) renewable energy on the grid. One of the big findings is with enough transmission, intermittency becomes less of an issue. When you create a large network, the whole gets more resilient. This was Skelly’s vision: build more HVDC and you end up with a better grid.

Henry Craver's picture
Henry Craver on Aug 15, 2019 4:27 pm GMT

Matt, thanks for pointing that out. It's true that Skelly doesn't see his venture as a failure, just an early step on a long journey towards the substantial integration of wind energy.

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