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Technological Developments and Grids

Todd Carney's picture
Writer Freelance

Todd Carney is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Communications. He writes on many different aspects of energy, in particular how it...

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With rising gas prices and increased concern about carbon emissions, there is an impetus to focus on renewable energy. Another area that renewable energy matters for is for allowing grids to properly function. There have been countless stories about various state grids being pushed to the brink or actually shutting down. This occurs when there is only so much energy for a grid, so renewable energy could assist in reducing stress on grids. Many experts have talked up this idea for quite some time, yet it has not fully occurred yet. Why? Well there are many issues concerning the technology of renewable energy. This piece goes through those issues.

Limited Technology

First, the technology is not advanced enough to create sustainable energy. Right now, there can be immediate renewable energy available through solar and wind power. But the availability of these sources are dependent on the time of the day and the weather. Currently, energy tech companies are trying to develop products that can store renewable energy for a long time. While there are some promising developments, the precise technology will not be available anytime soon.

It is also worth noting that some of these energy developments can cause environmental issues. Studies have found that hydropower can lead to floods because of the intense use of water. If anything goes wrong, then some communities can be hit with large amounts of water. Wind power can disrupt flying animals such as birds and bats, which can cause greater problems in the ecosystem. Even solar power can cause problems in erosion because the panels set up are quite large and take up a lot of space, typically in vacant areas, which harms the soil. For electric products like cars, there is an intense use of energy and often a lot of material that is improperly disposed of.

This all is of course terrible for the environment, but also long-term it could cause greater problems in climate change and the environment, which could lead to more intense weather. These kinds of changes in weather can put more strain on the environment.

Potential Technology

So despite the limitations in technology, as noted above, there are some positive developments, even if they have not occurred as quickly as many would like. One company, Sunrun, has promoted the installation of solar panels on houses. The company just reached its fifteenth anniversary. When they started, they struggled to get many customers, but now they are up to 700,000 installations. This kind of energy source counters some of the problems listed above because it provides energy directly to a home, so no one has to store the energy for long. Additionally, since the panels are on a roof, they will not interfere with the natural environment too much. Similarly, some have proposed putting energy panels in bodies of water. Although that could disrupt ecosystems, since there is much more water than land in the world, that provides places to put solar panels, particularly in areas where the weather could maximize the availability of solar energy.

Additionally, at a conference last week for electric utility companies, many utility owners agreed that they needed to move towards carbon free energy sources. Several of the business leaders promised to invest in new technology and also lobby government leaders for more investment in technology. A lot of the business executives seemed to express optimism about hydrogen technology. They want the government to offer more tax credits, the same way that the government has offered such credits for wind and solar technology. These utility leaders all stressed that such improvements need to occur in order to prevent further stress on state grids.

Another interesting development is the concept of “microgrids.” These are more localized grids that can sustain communities and prevent those communities from having to rely on the state grid as much. Overall, this could take a lot of stress off the statewide grid. These local grids are able to use solar and wind energy more because they do not need to transfer energy as far. With more storage technology, these microgrids could keep renewable  energy on tap, and use it only when there is stress on the grid. So even if a community cannot sustain itself all the time, it can still rely on this energy sometimes.

The limitations and developments in this piece are good reminders for leaders at every level to invest in renewable energy technology.

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