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


  • Sovacool, Benjamin K.


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Sovacool, Benjamin K., 2009. "The intermittency of wind, solar, and renewable electricity generators: Technical barrier or rhetorical excuse?," Utilities Policy, Elsevier, vol. 17(3-4), pages 288-296, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:juipol:v:17:y:2009:i:3-4:p:288-296

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Doucet, Joseph & Littlechild, Stephen, 2006. "Negotiated settlements: The development of legal and economic thinking," Utilities Policy, Elsevier, vol. 14(4), pages 266-277, December.
    2. Nillesen, Paul H. L. & Pollitt, Michael G., 2001. "Becoming a Best-Practice Company: The FPL Story Revisited," The Electricity Journal, Elsevier, vol. 14(9), pages 96-101, November.
    3. Zhongmin Wang, 2004. "Settling Utility Rate Cases: An Alternative Ratemaking Procedure," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 26(2), pages 141-163, September.
    4. Joskow, Paul L, 1974. "Inflation and Environmental Concern: Structural Change in the Process of Public Utility Price Regulation," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 17(2), pages 291-327, October.
    5. Littlechild, S., 2007. "The bird in hand: stipulated settlements and electricity regulation in Florida," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 0713, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    6. Joskow, P.L., 1989. "Regulatory Failure, Regulatory Reform And Structural Change In The Electric Power Industry," Working papers 516, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
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