The Limits of Incorporating Renewables into the Grid: Where Microgeneration Shows its Strengths
In a perfect world, 100% of our electricity would be produced by clean, renewable sources, and our coffee would brew itself as soon as we stepped out of bed in the morning.
Unfortunately, these are only dreams and getting 100% of our electricity from variable generation renewables is impossible without massive technological advancement and infrastructure investment.
To put this onto perspective, consider Germany, they have the highest penetration rates of wind and solar energy in the world and it still only accounts for 42% of their electricity generation. When looking at the whole world, the average is only 10%.
This is where microgeneration comes in. If you really want to use clean, renewable energy as much as possible, complementing the electricity you draw from the grid with a microgeneration system is a great option to reduce your total electricity costs, and contribute to a cleaner future.
The Challenges of Increasing Renewable Electricity Generation
So, why can we not use renewables for everything?
Well, it comes down to a few factors: Intermittency, Land-use, and Technology.
Let’s start with Intermittency.
Intermittency means that variable generation renewable sources like wind and solar are unable to produce power constantly as the suns energy can be obstructed by clouds, and the wind’s speed fluctuates.
By design, our utility grids need consistent power, and can only absorb a limited amount of variable renewable energy before the grid becomes unstable. One option is to store the excess variable renewable energy into large battery systems. We will talk about these later, but for now let’s look at the second constraint: land.
One of the main advantages of fossil fuel and nuclear generation is its compact footprint, something that cannot be said about wind and solar.
If you consider the amount of land required on average for one megawatt of power, an industrial wind farm requires 70.64 acres and a solar farm 43.5. These are far greater than the 12 acres required for a nuclear, natural gas, or coal generating station.
Now, one thing to consider is that even though a wind farm may take up many acres, the land between the turbines can still be used for farming. It is estimated that by 2068 a wind farm the size of half of Russia would be required to meet the growing electricity needs worldwide.
The next constraint is technology. Because wind and solar generate power intermittently, large battery complexes and inefficient inverter systems would be required to store any excess power and then release it later on.
Not only would this be expensive, but the resources required are immense and ramping up mining operations would strain local environments.
It is estimated that to build large enough batteries, lithium extraction would have to increase by a whopping 2700%! In other words, we would need 40 million tons of lithium which is more than the 39.5 million tons existing in known lithium resources.
Also, the current utility grids are not designed to incorporate such large quantities of variable resources.
If you have made it this far you might be feeling grim about the future of renewable energy, but do not worry, microgeneration is here to help!
Where Microgeneration Fits In
If you want to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible, getting power from the utility grid has its limits. Considering the constraints listed above, it is estimated that variable generation renewables will only ever be able to produce 50% of the electricity required in areas with large-scale grids and as little as 2% for remote areas relying on diesel generators and local microgrids.
This is where a microgeneration system can help.
If you are not familiar with microgeneration and electrical grids check out our resources page for infographics explaining them!
By installing a microgeneration system on your property, you can harvest the resources immediately available to you, reducing your reliance on the utility grid, lowering your energy costs, and decreasing your carbon-footprint.
If the world is to make the transition to 100% variable generation renewable energy, individuals are going to have to step up and take some of the strain off our utility grids. Apart from practicing good energy saving habits, having a home microgeneration system is something you can do to help put us on the right path towards a more sustainable future not to mention reduce your electricity costs.
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