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The intermittency of wind, solar, and renewable electricity generators: Technical barrier or rhetorical excuse?

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  • Sovacool, Benjamin K.
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    Abstract

    A consensus has long existed within the electric utility sector of the United States that renewable electricity generators such as wind and solar are unreliable and intermittent to a degree that they will never be able to contribute significantly to electric utility supply or provide baseload power. This paper asks three interconnected questions: 1. What do energy experts really think about renewables in the United States? 2. To what degree are conventional baseload units reliable? 3. Is intermittency a justifiable reason to reject renewable electricity resources?To provide at least a few answers, the author conducted 62 formal, semi-structured interviews at 45 different institutions including electric utilities, regulatory agencies, interest groups, energy systems manufacturers, nonprofit organizations, energy consulting firms, universities, national laboratories, and state institutions in the United States. In addition, an extensive literature review of government reports, technical briefs, and journal articles was conducted to understand how other countries have dealt with (or failed to deal with) the intermittent nature of renewable resources around the world. It was concluded that the intermittency of renewables can be predicted, managed, and mitigated, and that the current technical barriers are mainly due to the social, political, and practical inertia of the traditional electricity generation system.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Utilities Policy.

    Volume (Year): 17 (2009)
    Issue (Month): 3-4 (September)
    Pages: 288-296

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:juipol:v:17:y:2009:i:3-4:p:288-296

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    Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/30478

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    Keywords: Energy policy Renewable energy Electric utility industry Wind turbines Solar photovoltaics (PV);

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    Cited by:
    1. Zafirakis, D. & Chalvatzis, K. & Kaldellis, J.K., 2013. "“Socially just” support mechanisms for the promotion of renewable energy sources in Greece," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 21(C), pages 478-493.
    2. Arthur HENRIOT & Jean-Michel GLACHANT, 2013. "Melting-pots and salad bowls: the current debate on electricity market design for RES integration," RSCAS Working Papers 2013/55, European University Institute.
    3. Zarnikau, Jay, 2011. "Successful renewable energy development in a competitive electricity market: A Texas case study," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(7), pages 3906-3913, July.
    4. Vagliasindi, Maria, 2012. "The role of policy driven incentives to attract PPPs in renewable-based energy in developing countries : a cross-country analysis," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6120, The World Bank.
    5. Locatelli, Giorgio & Mancini, Mauro, 2011. "Large and small baseload power plants: Drivers to define the optimal portfolios," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(12), pages 7762-7775.
    6. Woo, C.K. & Zarnikau, J. & Moore, J. & Horowitz, I., 2011. "Wind generation and zonal-market price divergence: Evidence from Texas," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(7), pages 3928-3938, July.
    7. Huang, Shih-Chieh & Lo, Shang-Lien & Lin, Yen-Ching, 2013. "Application of a fuzzy cognitive map based on a structural equation model for the identification of limitations to the development of wind power," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 851-861.
    8. Saule Baurzhan & Glenn P. Jenkins, 2014. "Solar versus Combined Cycle Electricity Generation in Capital Constrained African Economies: Which is Greener?," Development Discussion Papers 2014-02, JDI Executive Programs.
    9. Henriot, Arthur & Glachant, Jean-Michel, 2013. "Melting-pots and salad bowls: The current debate on electricity market design for integration of intermittent RES," Utilities Policy, Elsevier, vol. 27(C), pages 57-64.

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