Renewable Energy Growing Faster Than Expected
Worries that wind and solar power would destabilize power grids unproven
The International Energy Agency says the world will generate much more renewable energy than previously expected in the next five years, disproving worries that relying more on wind and solar power would destabilize electricity grids.
About 28 percent of the world’s electricity will come from renewable sources in 2021, the agency said, a bump up from the previous forecast of 25 percent. The increase comes from developing nations making greater commitments to wind and solar projects, which have seen costs plummet.
“We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables and, as is the case with other fields, the center of gravity for renewable growth is moving to emerging markets,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.
The global installed capacity of wind and solar plants also surpassed that of coal-fired plants this year, even though coal still generates more electricity because it is not intermittent. Coal power has also been on the decline because of low prices for natural gas, making it a more attractive option.
Texas still generates more power from wind than any other state, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says, but when it comes to wind and solar as a percentage of what we consume, the Lone Star State is a laggard. Wind makes up about 10 percent of the electricity we use, while Iowa’s share of wind power is 31 percent, and South Dakota’s is 25.5 percent.
Even in Kansas, wind supplies 23.9 percent of the states electricity. Wind power now exceed 10 percent in 11 states.
(Full disclosure, my wife develops wind and solar projects across the United States, and she’s having a very busy year.)
The rate at which the world is adopting wind and solar energy is accelerating much faster than anyone predicted. And I’m reminded of critics who claim that there is a limit on how much the grid can rely on renewable energy sources because they are intermittent.
The increased adoption of renewable sources, however, has been possible through the slow evolution of the grid and the adoption of new technologies. Grid operators are using huge batteries to stabilize the grid as weather shifts, and while one region may suffer from a cloudy, windless day, another part of the country can make up for it.
Energy retailers are also becoming adept at convincing customers to shift their demand away from peak demand periods and toward peak generation periods.New fast-start natural gas power plants also provide back-up when necessary.
The electric power industry is evolving more quickly than we thought, and operators are developing new technologies that address the problems we were expecting. The lesson is to never underestimate an industry’s ability to innovate.