As renewables become a larger part of the global energy mix, the conversation around when to make the transition from fossil fuels has intensified. Many believe that renewables should be given an ever-growing share of the market, while others argue that renewables are not ready to shoulder the entire load. In this blog post, we will explore both sides of this debate and present a more viable strategy for the renewables transition: blended transmission.
The push for renewables
The push for renewables has been gaining momentum in recent years. In the US, the use of renewable energy has increased 42 percent from 2010 to 2022. On a global level, renewables made up 29 percent of electricity generation in 2020, much of it from hydropower (16.8 percent). In many countries, renewables are already cheaper than fossil fuels.
There are two main arguments for transitioning to renewables as quickly as possible.
The first is that renewables are a cleaner source of energy than fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewables generate electricity without emitting any greenhouse gases.
The second argument is that renewables are a more sustainable source of energy than fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are a finite resource, which means that they will eventually run out. renewables, on the other hand, are renewable resources, which means that they can be replenished over time.
Timing of the transition to renewables
However, there are also some arguments for a slower transition to renewables.
The first is that due to their intermittency, renewables are not yet as reliable as fossil fuels. For example, solar and wind power rely on weather conditions that are not always conducive to generating electricity. This means that there are times when there is too much renewable energy on the grid, and other times when there isn’t enough. In contrast, fossil fuel-fired power plants can generate electricity around the clock regardless of weather conditions.
The second argument is that transitioning to renewables too quickly could strain the electric grid. For example, if too much renewable generation comes online at once, it could overwhelm the grid and cause blackouts.
The third argument is that transitioning to renewables too quickly could be expensive. For example, if utilities have to build new transmission lines to accommodate all of the new renewable generation, those costs will be passed on to ratepayers.
Introducing a blended transmission approach
A more gradual transition to renewables, known as a blended approach, could address some of these concerns. Under a blended approach, utilities would continue to rely on fossil fuels for a portion of their electricity generation even as they ramp up renewables. This would provide needed reliability and grid stability while giving renewables time to mature and become more cost-effective.
There are several examples of utilities around the world that are already pursuing blended approaches. In Europe, for instance, many utilities are using a technique called demand response to balance renewables on the grid. Demand response programs give customers financial incentives to use less electricity at peak times, when renewables are often producing the most power. This helps to even out the variability of renewables and makes it easier for utilities to integrate them into the grid.
In the United States, some utilities are using natural gas “peaker” plants to supplement renewables. Peaker plants are designed to come online quickly when there is high demand for electricity, and they can help fill in gaps in renewable generation.
Why a blended approach may be more viable
Blended approaches have several advantages over an all-renewables approach.
First, they can help utilities avoid the need for new transmission lines, which can be expensive and controversial.
Second, a blended approach can help utilities meet renewable energy goals without putting too much strain on the electric grid.
And third, a blended approach can be less expensive than an all-renewables approach, because it takes advantage of existing infrastructure.
Potential pitfalls of a blended approach
A blended approach is not without its challenges, however. For one thing, it requires a careful balancing of renewables and fossil fuels. Too much renewables can result in supply strains and higher costs, while too little renewables can defeat the purpose of the transition to a cleaner energy system. Utilities will need to closely monitor the electric grid and make adjustments as needed to ensure that the right mix of renewables and fossil fuels is being used.
Another challenge of a blended approach is that it requires a certain amount of coordination between different parts of the electric grid. For example, if renewables are generating more power than needed at a particular time, that excess power will need to be stored somehow or sent to another part of the grid where it is needed. This can be done through a variety of means, such as energy storage, demand response, and transmission upgrades.
Despite these challenges, a blended approach to the renewables transition may be the most viable option for utilities and other stakeholders. By carefully balancing renewables and fossil fuels, utilities can avoid some of the pitfalls associated with an all-renewables approach while still making progress toward a cleaner energy future.
The renewables transition is a complex process, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In some cases, an all-renewables approach may be the best option. But in other cases, a blended approach may be more viable. Ultimately, the decision will come down to a careful analysis of the costs and benefits of each option.
Utilities and other stakeholders should also keep in mind that the renewables transition is a long-term process. There is no need to rush into an all-renewables future; a gradual transition over time may be the best way to ensure a successful outcome.
FAQs about fossil fuels and the transition to renewables
The answer to this question is simple: renewables are cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable than fossil fuels.
According to the World Economic Forum, as of August 2022, 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels.
A blended transmission to renewables is also a more viable option because it would allow us to phase out fossil fuels gradually. This would prevent supply disruptions and price hikes, which can occur when renewables are rapidly scaled up. It would also give us time to develop new technologies and build the infrastructure needed to support a 100% renewable energy system.