Renewable Energy Just Got Easier to Tie to the Grid

The U.S. Federal Energy Commission (FERC) has passed a rule that gives renewable energy greater access to the grid and takes steps to level the playing field with fossil fuels.

Sometimes removing regulatory barriers is good – in this case FERC’s Chair, Jon Wellinghoff, is trying to tune up grid requirements so they are more responsive to new technologies – renewable energy and energy storage.

He expects 60% of all the new bulk energy power added to the grid through 2019 will be from wind and solar.

Until now, utility transmission providers set hourly service schedules, which works for baseload power like coal and nuclear, but makes it more expensive for intermittent energy sources, which end up paying excess service charges to smooth their power supply over that time.

FERC’s new rule, proposed in 2010, sets 15-minute increments, much more appropriate for renewable energy suppliers.

It also requires intermittent suppliers to provide operational and meteorological information to transmission operators to help accurately forecast power production.

Energy Storage Too

One of the big complaints about adding intermittent renewables to the grid has always been that utilities still have to keep fossil fuel plants ready to take up the slack during peak times when renewables can’t meet all the energy demand.

Because they only come online for relatively short periods, utilities don’t build new fossil fuel plants for that purpose. That means the ones they are using are dirty, old, inefficient plants that many say cancel out the benefit of renewables and add to the expense.

FERC is proposing a rule that would change that. Currently, the only recognized back-up energies are fossil fuels, which means that non-traditional energy storage technologies can’t get paid in many markets.

Under the new rule, technologies like flywheels, compressed air and large batteries would be recognized. They would also be rewarded with higher prices for what they do best: provide faster service and more accurate fulfillment of energy when it’s needed. To do that, the rule includes provisions that require these attributes to be measured and reported.

Earlier this year, FERC approved the Atlantic Wind Connection project and gave licenses for two tidal projects, Ocean Renewable’s Maine project and Verdant Power’s project in New York City’s East River.

Last year, FERC instituted a rule that boosts the demand response industry by requiring providers get paid the same price as electricty generators when they smooth out demand and supply of energy.

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