It’s nice to see that the energy industry is starting to address some of the glaring problems that are out there such as energy shortage, depletion of domestic oil and gas reserves, and lack of incentives to invest in domestic energy facilities to name a few. Renewable energy is moving front and center to become THE next energy resource. However, the solutions are not without their challenges. Energy generation and delivery still needs a good solid look as the cost to save one kW of energy using a renewable energy resource is approximately $0.11/kW, while saving that same kW through energy efficiency in existing building and homes is only at $0.03/kW.
The challenge with renewable energy is integrating it into the power grid. With the emergence of smart meters, we can see where the power is going at any given place and time. This will help to put a focus on generating plant production at the right place and at the right time. With that said, renewable energy does not have the luxury of turning itself on or off (reducing the demand that could be placed on the electrical grid). In addition, the business model for renewable energy is most effective when it is operating for the longest time possible.
Renewable energy should be baseloaded with the power generation plants to pick up on any energy swings. Smart meters would be able to anticipate when those swings will happen. The dilemma occurs when the renewable energy source does not produce enough to reach the level they were intended to produce. This can happen when units go down for maintenance, break down or don’t produce enough megawatts because the wind is not blowing or the sun is not out.
Programs like demand response can help lessen the high demand on the power grid. Having a program to reduce the peak load on the grid through end-user participation is helpful. However, when the response event comes at an inopportune time or cannot be incorporated due to other circumstances, this puts additional variables into the equation that makes renewable energy less desirable or predictable.
Energy monitoring is a great way to promote energy consumption awareness to determine the Where, Why and at What point a facility is using energy. This will allow for energy efficiency awareness and enable facility operators to be proactive. But once again, the end-user must know what to do with all the data that they are receiving. Knowing where your energy consumption stands is great, but knowing what to do with all the data once you have it is the key to energy reduction. Finding a solution to analyze the data will really help a facility to control its energy consumption. The amount of data produced is astronomical and unless the data is analyzed and trended on a regular basis, it will be of little to no value. A process needs to be developed that addresses how to use analyze and interpret the data.
All of these items and their challenges are important as we move forward to solve this country’s energy needs. These challenges can not be avoided and they need to be navigated with viable solutions. Coordinating all of the solutions together will put us in a better position for our electric infrastructure. Always have a contingency plan so that you don’t fail to plan; and be prepared so that you don’t plan to fail.