Global intermittency issues could be alleviated within the decade

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21 November 2011, Electricity, Nuclear, Solar, Wind

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Intermittency is one of the main problems associated with wind and solar power. For example, during the cold spell over Christmas 2010, almost all the UK's 3,000 wind turbines stood still. However, intermittency issues could soon be alleviated. For a start, costs are falling rapidly. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts onshore wind grid parity by 2016; solar photovoltaics is expected to reach grid parity in most European countries by 2020; and even wave/tidal energy is expected to be ready for mass commercialization by 2015 (according to Scottish first minister Alex Salmond).

With predictable tides, and the potential sharing of offshore transmission connections, wave and tidal energy are excellent complements to intermittent offshore wind power. Lower costs enable more units to be built which equates to more available power, helping to solve the intermittency issue. Not only are the costs of different renewable energy types decreasing, outputs are also increasing, which again goes someway to alleviate intermittency problems if there is more power available at any one time. For example, Vestas is currently testing a 7MW offshore wind turbine.

Having more power helps intermittency issues, but if the power generated exceeds demand then the excess energy must be stored, and subsequently released when needed. Pumped storage is the best-known energy storage solution, but a very interesting technology being tested by E.ON uses wind energy to produce hydrogen via electrolysis, and then stores the hydrogen in the gas grid. E.ON says that up to 5% hydrogen can be added to the gas grid without any problems. The hydrogen could also be used to power cars, as German sustainable energy company Enertrag has done. This is an ingenious solution to the intermittency problem.

The upcoming fully interconnected European smart grid promises to help integrate renewables into the grid as well. The European Climate Foundation has said that more interconnection within the EU would reduce reserve requirements by around 35-40%. This is done by trading the electricity flows around Europe, to efficiently match supply and demand balances.

So, with rapidly declining costs, increased efficiencies, and new technologies, the intermittency problem associated with wind and solar power could well be a thing of the past.

Source: Datamonitor

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