The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission‘s (FERC) report for the first quarter of 2016 is on the books, and it shows a bright future for renewable energy and energy storage. The report details new energy generation projects that went online in the first three months of the year, and we are proud that renewable energy sources continue to compete with and replace dirty fossil fuels.
The United States added a total 1,291MW of renewable energy capacity, with 707MW of wind energy, 522MW of solar energy, and some additional biomass and hydropower as well. Keep in mind that these numbers only include large-scale projects of 1MW+. That means that smaller residential and commercial solar projects are not included in the report.
In contrast, there were only 18MW of natural gas capacity added and not a single MW of new coal, oil, or nuclear capacity came online. It seems that the United States is finally ready to leave behind dirty fossil fuels and natural gas for clean sources of renewable energy.
Switching to renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind comes with a long list of benefits. For example, by phasing out fossil fuels, the health of our planet and all of its inhabitants will improve. This will decreases rates of disease, in turn decreasing health care costs.
Renewable energy sources are unlimited and reliable. The sun and the wind are not going to run out, unlike coal, oil and natural gas. Furthermore, harnessing the power of the sun does not come with the dangers of harvesting coal and oil, and does not require chemicals to be injected into the ground as extracting natural gas, or “fracking” does. Once a solar array or a wind farm is up and running, it will produce clean energy whenever the sun shines or the wind blows.
While renewable energy technologies continue to improve and the cost of installing a solar energy system on a home or business has dropped 65 percent in the last five years, we are still trying to master one key to the clean energy equation: storage. There has been a lot of buzz about the Tesla Powerwall batteries and going off-grid, but energy storage still has much room for improvement.
Currently, pairing a battery back up system for energy storage with a solar photovoltaic (PV) system remains costly. Battery backup systems currently can make sense for those living in rural areas where the power frequently goes out for extended periods of time, but not many others. The typical batteries currently on the market have the capacity to run a home’s critical loads, such as a refrigerator or a sump pump, for 2-3 days without the PV panels being exposed to sunlight again. Unless homeowners are preparing for the zombie apocalypse and want to provide shelter for—or laugh menacingly at—their neighbors, you won’t find many battery backup systems in highly populated neighborhoods with reliable electricity.
But there is a bright ray of hope for energy storage tucked away in the 2016 Q1 report. As Joe Romm points out, the newly online solar project in Minister, OH marks a turning point in the road to storing energy in the United States. The 4.3MW solar PV system, combined with lithium ion batteries, is the “largest U.S. facility of its kind connected through a municipal utility.” The system was designed to maintain grid frequency and reduce peak demand charges, which in a nutshell, is saving Minister a ton of money. All of the technical details are captured in this article.
FERC’s quarterly reports have consistently shown that the United States is moving toward renewable energy sources and that the solar industry is booming. But the key to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy—storage—is still developing. The new system in Minister, OH shows that energy storage technology coupled with renewable energy systems is making strides forward.
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Written by Sarah Bergen. Sarah is the Office Manager at Exact Solar. She has a background in journalism and is passionate about fighting climate change. She can be reached at [email protected].