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An outbreak fast forwarded some of our power systems by ‘10 years’ according to IEA chief

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The coronavirus has halted swaths of the world’s economy and put much of community life, outside our healthcare system, on pause; however, while much has stalled, the virus has helped fast forward our electricity grids by 10 years, said Dr. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency.

As non-essential businesses shutter, most global residents are sheltering at home and factories and warehouses stop production, electricity demand has dropped by 15%. In areas such as California and Spain, said Birol, wind and solar power dominate a substantial share of the power portfolio. When electricity demand drops so suddenly, the share of a power system’s reliance on wind power and solar power generation increases substantially.

“In this way, the recent drop in electricity demand fast forwarded some power systems 10 years into the future, suddenly giving them levels of wind and solar power that they wouldn’t have had otherwise without another decade of investment in renewables,” Birol wrote in his IEA blog post from March 22. “This is an important moment for our understanding of cleaner electricity systems, including some of the operational challenges that policy makers and regulators need to address to ensure electricity security.”

However, as renewables provide a greater share of a power system, those systems need to be flexible for times when the wind dies or the sun goes down. Our systems are being forced to solve these challenges earlier than they may have wanted. While this virus has caused so much harm, it’s in a way calming to know that some good may come from battling through the challenges.  

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