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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Can We Balance a Grid Supplied by Wind and Solar?

[This article first appeared in the February 22, 2013 Issue of Green Energy Times]

By George Harvey

Local pundits in Vermont and New Hampshire are asking for a moratorium on development of wind power. One has complained that the technology to support 95% reliance on renewable power by 2050 does not exist.

A recent article in a publication called Bernama (http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v6/newsworld.php?id=920112) said Nicaragua is hoping to move from a 70% reliance on oil for generating electricity to a 94% reliance on renewable power, mostly wind, by 2017. Nicaragua is described in the article as the second poorest country in Latin America.

A list of 45 countries that are currently getting over 60% of their electric power from renewable sources, including 13 that are getting over 95%, was attached to the article. The list was prepared Karl-Friedrich Lenz, whose blog posting is at http://k.lenz.name/LB/?p=6525. Many of the countries in the list are small, and many are poor. The larger countries include Brazil, Canada, Sweden, Norway and New Zealand. Also, nearly all the countries on the list are relying on hydropower for most of their power, which has made maintaining uniform power on their grids a rather simple problem. Two interesting countries are Iceland, which produces 100% of its electricity and 80% of all energy from renewables, and Uruguay, which produces ten times the electricity it needs from hydro, keeping the 10% it uses and exporting 90%.

Developments in countries not on the lists, however, fly in the face of the predictions of those who say a system driven largely by wind and solar cannot be balanced (and will not come to be balanced by any technology developed in the next 37 years). One of these is Tokelau, a place sometimes called a country in the South Pacific and a sometimes a territory of New Zealand. Tokelau has just put up an electric grid that is 100% solar, with seldom-used backup supplied by fossil fuels.

Another widely circulated story is about Germany, which achieved at least 23% of the total output in 2012, double what the country had in 2006. Most renewable power in Germany is from wind, and the fastest growing sector is solar. The Germans are planning to be primarily dependent on wind and solar in the future. They are well aware of the problems of grid balancing, and have plans to deal with them.
Yet another interesting story is about Scotland. That country produced something over 36% if its power from renewable sources in 2011, and was increasing by over 15% in 2012, according to most recent reports. This means that Scotland is getting over 40% of its power from renewable sources, mostly from wind, wave power, and ocean currents. The Scots claim to be on target for getting 50% of their power from renewables by 2015 and 100% by 2020.

Though Iceland and Uruguay do not provide examples of a balanced grid dependent on wind and sun, Tokelau shows it can be done. Germany provides an example of a country with highly skilled technical experts who believe it can be done. And Scotland provides an example of a country whose technical experts believe it can be done very soon. It seems other countries have scientists who know about some technology which the pundits in Vermont and New Hampshire do not.

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