Integrating the first 5 to 10% of renewable energy generation poses no technical or economic challenges for any country at all, provided that three conditions are met, a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) concludes. Going beyond this to reach shares of more than 30 percent, however, requires a transformation of the system, for which there are three main requirements, IEA says.
1. Conditions for Easy Integration of 5 to 10% Share of Renewables
According to IEA the following three criteria have to be observed for an easy, unproblematic integration of renewable energy sources into an energy system:
- Uncontrolled local “hot spots” of variable renewable energy (VRE) deployment must be avoided;
- VRE must contribute to stabilising the grid when needed;
- VRE forecasts must be used effectively.
IEA explains its findings as follows: “These lower levels of integration are possible within existing systems because the same flexible resources that power systems already use to cope with variability of demand can be put to work to help integrate variability from wind and solar. Such resources can be found in the form of flexible power plants, grid infrastructure, storage and demand-side response.”
2. Conditions for Higher Share of VRE and Challenges Ahead
The three main requirements identified by IEA for going beyond the first few percent points to reach shares of more than 30 percent of VRE are as follows:
- Deploying variable renewables in a system-friendly way using state-of-the art technology;
- Improving the day-to-day operation of power systems and markets; and
- Investing in additional flexible resources.
“The challenges of such transformation depend on whether a power system is “stable,” meaning no significant investments are needed to meet demand in the short term (IEA names Europe), or “dynamic” which requires significant investments short-term, to meet growing power demand or replace old assets”, IEA says.
“Governments with stable systems face tough policy questions about how to handle the distributional effects, in particular if other power plants need to be retired before the end of their lifetimes and, if so, who will pay for stranded assets. Meeting these challenges will only be possible through a collaborative effort by policy makers and the industry. In any case, “these surmountable challenges should not let us lose sight of the benefits renewables can bring for energy security and fighting dangerous climate change. If OECD countries want to maintain their position as front runners in this industry, they will need to tackle these questions head-on,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said.
“By contrast, in “dynamic” power systems such as in India, China, Brazil and other emerging economies, wind power and solar PV can be cost-effective solutions to meet incremental demand. VRE grid integration can – and must – be a priority from the onset. With proper investments, a flexible system can be built from the very start, in parallel with the deployment of variable renewables. “Emerging economies really have an opportunity here. They can leap-frog to a 21st-century power system – and they should reap the benefits,” the IEA Executive Director concluded.
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