Prepping For The 100% Renewable Energy Grid Of Tomorrow, Today

The ink has barely dried on the new climate bill, but the Biden Administration is not letting any grass grow under its feet. The US Department of Energy is setting aside $26 million to pay for 10 new clean power projects, aimed at demonstrating that grids powered by 100% renewable energy can respond automatically to prevent blackouts and deal with the stress and strain of modern electricity delivery including cyberattacks, extreme weather and wildfires.

Here Comes The 100% Renewable Energy Grid Of The Future, Eventually

To be clear, the new climate bill hasn’t actually been written yet, at least not in final form. The original version passed the House of Representatives last November under the title Build Back Better, only to be steamrolled by all 50 Republican senators in the US Senate.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the only Democratic holdout against Build Back Better, but he pulled a switcheroo last week and now the climate bill is back on again, under the title “Infrastructure Reduction Act of 2022.”

Making up for lost time, Senator Manchin pulled off the rare feat of a full Ginsburg last Sunday, apparently in an effort to encourage Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to commit her vote.

If Senator Sinema comes around — and that’s a big if — the Infrastructure Act will pass with all 50 Democratic Senators plus Vice President Kamala Harris to throw the deciding vote in the hopper.

$26 Million For 10 New 100% Renewable Energy Projects

If the other side of the aisle wants to sit this one out, that’s too bad for them. Even so, fossil energy stakeholders will continue to throw up roadblocks to renewable energy, Inflation Reduction Act or not.

The fossil energy argument will run out of gas if the Biden administration can prove that a new grid supported only with wind and solar can outperform the 20th century model of large, centralized fossil energy power plants in the context of 21st century grid stresses, which is a good reason to follow along as the 100% renewable energy demonstration gets under way.

The funding pot of $26 million is peanuts compared to other Energy Department expenditures. However, in this case a little goes to a long way.

The Energy Department has been pouring billions into new grid modernization technologies in a long term initiative that predates the Trump administration. Despite the former President’s promises to coal communities, the Energy Department continued to work on renewables-friendly grid projects all throughout his term. That set the table for President Biden’s Build Back Better climate proposals, right down to the dessert spoons.

Somewhat ironically, funding for the new $26 million pot will come from a set-aside in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which is the one that passed last fall with the support of 19 Republican Senators.

The $26 million pot will go to the Solar and Wind Grid Services Reliability Demonstration Program, which covers the development and testing of new tools and power plant systems that brace the grid against disruptions. That includes restarting quickly in the event of a blackout.

“The demonstration projects will provide data to underscore how President Biden’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2030 can be achieved while supporting grid reliability,” the Energy Department explains.

“DOE investments have led to the development of new tools that enable grid operators to manage this increasingly complex network,” they add, referring to the integration of more wind and solar into the grid over the past 10 years or so. “Now those tools need to be demonstrated at a broader scale to increase their adoption and build trust as grid operators face a growing number of disruptions.”

Wind & Solar & Energy Storage, Too

Of course, no mention of 100% renewable energy is complete without bringing energy storage into the picture. The Energy Department is also providing some wiggle room for “other generation,” which we’ll know more about once they pick the projects to award.

The main thrust, though, is to build out the supporting technology for new wind and solar capacity.

That’s a bit more complicated than it may sound.

“Because new wind and solar generation are interfaced with the grid through power electronic inverters, they have different characteristics and dynamics than traditional sources of generation that currently supply these services,” explains the Energy Department. “Demonstrating that a grid fully powered by inverter-based resources is as reliable or more reliable at providing these services is a key barrier to the clean energy transition.”

Under the Wind and Solar Reliability Program, the Energy Department is looking specifically for controls and methods that apply to solar, wind, and other inverter-based resources.

The program is divided into two main topic areas. One focuses on centralized or autonomous controls, or a combination of the two, that can respond to grid service commands and schedules. The idea is to scale up to at least 10 megawatts of solar, wind, and energy storage and conduct long-duration demonstrations on existing wind and solar facilities that are connected to a bulk power system.

The other topic area focuses on systems that prevent disruptions in grids that have absorbed a large amount of inverter-based resources. “Projects will be expected to advance protection modeling and simulation capabilities and to develop technologies and strategies to maintain transmission grid reliability at any level of inverter-based generation,” the Energy Department emphasizes.

New Green Union Jobs & Social Justice, Too

Renewable energy advocates and social justice advocates were not too thrilled when the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was peeled away from Build Back Better last fall. Still, funding for Energy Department infrastructure projects under the BIL is subject to the central themes of the Biden administration, namely, union jobs and environmental justice.

In the funding notice for the Wind and Solar Reliability program, for example, the Energy Department emphasizes that “it is critical that the projects not only contribute to the energy technology goals, but also support the BIL objectives to invest in America’s workforce by including specific elements to accelerate job growth and job quality, including the free and fair chance to join a union.

The Energy Department also emphasizes that the program will “advance DOE’s equity, environmental and energy justice priorities, including DOE’s commitment to the Justice40 Initiative.”

They also make the point that the 100% renewable energy grid of the future is not achievable without bringing wind, solar, and other generating capacity to underserved communities.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if Senator Manchin’s efforts to bring Senator Sinema on board will have a ripple effect on any of the 50 Republican holdouts. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image (screenshot): 100% renewable energy courtesy of US DOE.


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