A report by the Department of Energy has determined that the American power grid is fully equipped to handle the increase of renewable energy sources on the market. Energy Secretary Rick Perry commissioned the report back in April in order to back up claims that the increase of solar and wind energy is threatening the long-term reliability of the electrical grid. Fortunately, the data tells a different story. Although the official version of the report downplays the benefits of alternative energy (instead focusing on ways to bolster coal and nuclear plants), it still acknowledges the reliability of the power grid, echoing the findings of previous studies. This is great news for clean energy companies such as Think Energy and for customers who enjoy competitively priced renewable energy.
Advocates of coal and nuclear energy have argued that the decline of so-called “baseload” power sources such as coal and nuclear power could lead to power grid failure. In a memo requesting the report, Perry claimed that “baseload power is necessary to a well-functioning grid” and expressed concerns that policies favoring renewables threaten the grid’s performance.1 However, the report clearly states that the grid has become more reliable and flexible than ever before. A leaked early draft of the report goes into much more depth about this, explaining that “better planning, market discipline and better operating rules and standards" have created an increasingly reliable grid.2
Despite later attempts to minimize statements about the economic benefits of renewable power, the leaked draft also states that the use of renewables provides more stable pricing and more affordable electricity to consumers. It goes on to cite several examples of states and regions in the U.S. where alternative energy sources account for over 30 percent of energy use.3 While the Department of Energy’s official report underplays these facts, a growing body of research finds evidence of the power grid’s reliability, as well as the environmental and economic benefits of alternative energy.
Among the report’s many critics is Earthjustice attorney, Kim Smaczniak. She argues that the DOE’s report not only impedes the country’s transition to clean energy but it also makes unsubstantiated claims about the cost of environmental regulation.4 Similarly, the National Resources Defense Council said in a statement that the study includes “misguided proposals” for cutting back environmental regulations that affect coal and nuclear facilities.5
Many others have pointed out the study’s failure to address climate change — a topic critical to any discussion about the replacement of non-renewable energy with emerging sources of renewable energy. Without referencing climate change, it is certainly difficult to convey the full extent of wind energy and solar energy’s benefits. However, the DOE’s findings should still give Americans confidence in the reliability of the electric power grid.
Data supplied by U.S. grid operators give an even clearer picture of the electricity grid’s resilience. After performing a power grid review, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) reported that benchmarks for the grid’s reliability were stronger in 2016 than they have been in several years.6 Moreover, studies show that improved technology will allow for the continued rise of renewable energy in the U.S. This means that reliable power distribution across energy grids will not require the continued use of non-renewable resources. Although the Department of Energy’s report spends little time examining the benefits of renewable energy, Americans can rest assured that clean energy use can continue to grow without posing any risks to the U.S. power grid.