MITEI report: Integrating large-scale intermittent energy sources into the electric grid

Teresa Hill and Melanie Kenderdine    ·    August 28, 2012    ·    MITEI

The impacts of the large-scale deployment of intermittent renewables—wind and solar—on conventional generation technologies, as well as on the power grid, was the topic of a report released by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) at a panel discussion and press briefing on March 12.

The report, Managing the Large-Scale Penetration of Intermittent Renewables, summarizes the discussion and findings of a group of subject-matter experts who participated in a MITEI symposium on the topic held on campus last year. Highlights from the symposium and report were discussed at the March event by a panel of MIT experts that included MITEI Director Professor Ernest Moniz, who moderated the panel; MIT Institute Professor John Deutch; Howard Herzog, MITEI senior research engineer and director of the MIT Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies Program; Visiting Professor Ignacio Perez-Arriaga, Engineering Systems Division and Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research; MITEI Executive Director Melanie Kenderdine; and John Michael Hagerty, graduate student in MIT’s Engineering Systems Division.

Symposium/report focus, findings

Twenty-nine US states, the European Union, and a number of other countries have adopted policy mandates and incentives to promote wind and solar power generation, both of which are intermittent. Absent large-scale storage options, these sources must be accommodated by the power delivery system as well as by the traditional thermal (coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear) generation units. The intermittent nature of wind and solar complicates the balancing of supply and demand while preserving reliability and economically efficient dispatch from the range of generation units within a service area or system. The proper allocation of costs requires an understanding of the system impacts of intermittent sources, including the need for backup capacity. The premise of the symposium was that implementation of appropriate cost allocation and operational protocols is a key enabler for future large-scale deployment of intermittent renewables.

The symposium examined several key areas of concern related to such mandates, including their emissions impacts, unintended consequences for system planners and market participants, impacts on the future generation mix and electricity markets, and the adequacy of existing regulatory frameworks and requirements. The following are some of the key findings in the symposium report:

Generation units

Economic impacts

Transmission grid and system operations

Policies and regulation

MITEI Symposium Series

This symposium is part of a series at MITEI designed to provide policymakers with technically grounded information and findings on topical energy issues. The series also provides graduate fellowships to support the symposium; graduate students Michael Hagerty and Tommy Leung served as rapporteurs for this symposium and are completing their master’s theses on related topics. MITEI Associate Members Cummins, Entergy, Exelon, and Hess provide support for the series. Earlier reports in the series include Retrofitting of Coal-Fired Power Plants for CO2 Emission Reductions and The Electrification of the Transportation System. The next symposium will address the prospects for alternative fueled light-duty vehicles. The symposium report on intermittent renewables includes seven white papers commissioned by MITEI from various experts to inform the discussion and the findings.

This article appears in the issue of Energy Futures.

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