By Antonella Battaglini, CEO of Renewables Grid Initiative
Grids are needed to further increase the share of renewable energy sources in the system.
We are in the middle of an energy revolution. The rate of change is massive, even if most of it goes unnoticed by many of us. This being so, if we intend to keep emissions below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C as required by the Paris Agreement, we need to do much more to deploy innovative solutions faster.
The ability to understand change and embrace sustainable solutions will determine our chances to design an electricity system that is reliable, affordable, fair and fully decarbonized. Innovation is already delivering decentralized solutions: today we can generate and store electricity in our houses, whilst charging our car from our own solar panels. With the right regulatory framework, we can also invite our neighbors to charge their car and fuel their appliances from our own production. Many cities have made the commitment to become 100% renewable and to be fully independent in the near future. The question of whether we need additional or enhanced grids to enable the successful re-design of our energy system is legitimate and has no easy answer.
Connect actors and secure reliability
I would like to make the case that grids are needed to further increase the share of renewable energy sources (RES) in the system. Due to time pressure, we must find a way to integrate RES much faster. This requires the utilization of renewable resources where they are most abundant, where large generation sites can be developed. It also requires the systematic use of distributed local resources close to consumption centers. Rooftop solar has grown exponentially in the past years, and thanks to the on-going reduction in costs, we can and should expect much more. Such reduction in costs is also having a similar impact on the affordability of both large and small battery storage solutions. The grid is the link between these numerous actors in a system that is increasingly complex and diverse. In this respect the grid is the backbone of the electricity system, it delivers reliability by keeping the system balanced, always matching supply with demand. The European grid is one of the most reliable systems ever created, with a reliability factor of well over 99%, blackouts are rare and electricity is always available when we need it.
Today, and in the years to come, grids will also contribute to making the energy transition more affordable. This can be achieved by sourcing RES in areas with the greatest potential and by transporting them to where they are consumed. Moreover, the grid enables the utilization of RES by those who do not have favorable conditions and where local exploitation is difficult or uneconomical. Similarly, the grid already connects millions of small generation units, providing access to the market and enabling them to earn revenue by providing services to the system. Such developments increase efficiency and should, over time, contribute to decreased electricity costs for households.
On a larger scale, a well-functioning European electricity market, complemented by sufficient cross border interconnection, will enable balancing services, optimization of costs and a reduction in price differentials across geographies. The ability to modulate demand through digitalized demand side management (DSM) technologies, making use of new more cost efficient storage across multiple time frames (daily, weekly, seasonal) and the building of wind farms further out at sea where wind speeds are more consistent, will contribute to the continued cost optimization of systems and markets.
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