IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - November/December 2017 - 16

guest editorial

J. Charles Smith

a major player
renewables are now mainstream

F

FOR TH E PAST 25 Y EA RS, TH E
Utility Variable-Generation Integration Group (UVIG) has focused on the
integration of wind, and more recently
solar, power into electric power systems. I remember the arguments in the
early days about what the maximum
penetration limit of wind power could
be before the power system would go
unstable and fall apart. Now the conversation is around how to integrate
inverter-based power plants into weak
grids and, indeed, how to design a grid
for 100% nonsynchronous generation.
My, how the times do change! I think
it has been at least a year since anyone
has asked me the maximum penetration question.
There is still work to do, but the
nature of the conversation has clearly
changed. Renewables are now mainstream. People no longer laugh at you
when you talk about wind and solar as
major sources of energy. As I am writing this, I just saw an Energy Information Administration (EIA) report saying
that wind and solar provided over 10%
of the electricity for the United States
in March 2017, the first monthly period
in double digits. The cumulative total
for 2016 was 7%. The focus is no longer
on how to integrate those alien forms of
generation from Mars into the grid but
how to integrate the energy systems of
the future, of which renewable energy
systems are a major part, into a coherent whole. So how did we get here?
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MPE.2017.2729080
Date of publication: 18 October 2017

16

ieee power & energy magazine

Dramatic Cost Reductions
One of the major drivers has been cost
reductions. Both wind and solar have
seen dramatic cost reductions in the
past five years. Lazard has been releasing
a cost of energy comparison report for
at least the last five years. In it, a range
of busbar costs for all major sources of
energy is shown, calculated on a levelized cost of energy basis. I think it offers
a good, although certainly not perfect,
comparison. The report presents ranges of costs for each technology, based
on clearly stated assumptions.
In the latest report, from December
2016, wind has the lowest cost of energy
of any source, with a range of US$32-
US$68/MWh, followed by utility scale
thin-film solar photovoltaics (PVs) at
US$46-US$56/MWh. The least-cost
fossil option is a natural gas combined
cycle at US$48-US$78/MWh. Coal
comes in at US$60-US$143/MWh and
nuclear at US$97-US$136/MWh. The
wind and PV numbers are unsubsidized costs, and the fossil numbers do
not reflect any environmental costs. I
have seen wind power purchase agreements (PPAs) at US$14/MWh, and PV
agreements under US$35/MWh, when
the current incentives are included.
These are some eye-popping numbers.

Corporate America
Has Taken Note
Clean and sustainable energy has become a goal of corporate America, by
which I mean the Fortune 500 companies such as Apple, Google, Tesla,
Microsoft, Disney, GM, IBM, and

Walmart. The list goes on and on. Most
major corporations now have a corporate sustainability officer and corporate
sustainability goals. These are being
met by some combination of purchasing renewable energy credits, entering
into PPAs, and private project development. They are driven by pressure from
shareholders, employees, and customers; people want clean energy. This has
not historically been a partisan political
issue, having gathered strong support
across both major political parties. The
extent to which this will continue is an
open question.
The U.S. president's action in taking the country out of the Paris climate
agreement has called into question the
traditional support for clean energy
policy in the United States. This action
has been met with strong objection both
abroad and at home. Abroad, we have
only to look at such developments as
the new website of the French government, Make Our Planet Great Again.
At home, most utility chief executive
officers (CEOs) speaking at the annual
meeting of the Edison Electric Institute
(EEI), the trade association of the nation's investor-owned utilities, came out
strongly in favor of clean energy policy,
including support for the carbon reduction objectives of the Clean Power
Plan (CPP) that is under attack from the
new administration.
What a difference two years makes. At
the EEI convention in 2015, the message
was that the CPP was going to increase
costs and jeopardize system reliability.
As mentioned earlier, the message this
november/december 2017



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IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - November/December 2017 - Cover3
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