Electrek Green Energy Brief: A daily technical, financial, and political review/analysis of important green energy news.
Today on EGEB, researchers at University of Texas’ Cockrell School of Engineering found a new way to integrate solar power production and storage into a single system. Rocky Mountain Institute reports that solar power will outperform fossil fuels on an economical basis to replace the U.S. aging power plants. A new University of Uppsala study argues Nordic countries could supply their energy needs using only green power.
A new Single-System solar technology could negate this power source’s main drawback. As you know, solar power is dependant on the sun and thus isn’t constant, making a grid managers’ job a lot harder. Researchers under electrical and computer engineering professor Alex Huang, director of the Semiconductor Power Electronics Center in the UT’s Cockrell School thus invented the M4 Inverter, it converts the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, eliminating the need for a low-frequency transformer. Professor Huang describes the advantages the following way:
“Our solution to solar energy storage not only reduces capital costs, but it also reduces the operation cost through its multifunctional capabilities,” Huang said. “These functionalities will ensure the power grids of tomorrow can host a higher percentage of solar energy. By greatly reducing the impact of the intermittence of solar energy on the grid and providing grid-governing support, the M4 Inverter provides the same resilience as any fossil-fuel-powered grid.”
The system provides the same advantages as storage installed separately from a solar array, but they claim a significant overall cost reduction. It remains to be seen at scale.
A new Rocky Mountain Institute report details the cost-wise superiority of renewable energy over fossil fuel in the coming massive investment required to overhaul America’s power plants. By 2030, nearly half of the U.S. thermal plants will be due or nearly due for retirement, investments in energy projects are thus required so electrical demand can keep being supplied. Rocky Mountain Institute details how investments would be way more productive if renewable energy is chosen over polluting ones through fuel cost and possible carbon taxation.
The report analyzes four natural gas-fired power plants currently proposed for construction across the US and compares them with optimized, region-specific clean portfolios of renewable energy and DERs that can provide the same services. The analysis includes two announced combined-cycle gas turbine power plants, planned for high capacity-factor operation, and two announced combustion-turbine power plants, planned for peak-hour operation. In three of the four cases, an optimized clean energy portfolio would cost 8–60% less than the announced power plant. In only one case the analysis finds the net cost of the optimized clean energy portfolio is slightly (~6%) greater than the proposed power plant. Factoring in expected further cost reductions in distributed solar and/or a $7.50/ton price on CO2 emissions, all four cases show that an optimized clean energy portfolio is more cost-effective and lower in risk than the proposed gas plant.
If these thermal plants were to be replaced by green power sources, not only the economy but our atmosphere would win as 3.5 billions tons of CO2 emissions would be avoided.
Electricity scholar at Uppsala University argues how Nordic countries can go 100% green, but there are surmountable difficulties. The study’s author Mikael Bergkvist details the numerous promising projects in the region, such as the Frodeparken residential building, whose entire glass facade produce electricity, or the European project New Wind Atlas, which logs wind resources. There are however problems to be solved:
With today’s distribution system, it would be difficult to deliver energy everywhere with just renewable electricity. In Sweden, for example, we have a lot of production in the north, but most consumption in the south.”Our calculations have not taken into account the limitations in the power grid. There, it is just a question of expansion, but it will of course cost a lot and the permit process for a new line can take decades.”In their study, the researchers also note that it is important to find the right mix of renewable sources.”It gets better if we optimise the mix of wave power, wind power and solar energy, but this is difficult to control since we live in a democracy with free enterprise,” Bergkvist observes.
Hydropower is the key renewable energy that can supply Scandinavia’s electrical demand, according to the author.
Featured Image: UT’s solar farm located on Pickle Research Campus UT Cockrell School of Engineering Communications