As scientists and ordinary citizens see increasing signs of climate change, forward-thinking leaders on every continent are taking steps to make our electricity grids less dependent on fossil fuels. For climate activists, the goal is a grid that obtains 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources like wind turbines and photovoltaic arrays. Most analysts have concluded that transitioning to a 100% renewable grid would be feasible but expensive. Pessimists, on the other hand, doubt whether a 100% renewable grid is even possible.
Here’s the good news: the cost of wind turbines and photovoltaic modules has dropped faster than most experts predicted. In many parts of the world, it is now cheaper to build a new wind or solar facility than a new coal-fired plant of the same capacity. Global wind and solar capacity continues to increase at a rapid rate, driven in most cases by simple economics.
The bad news, as most GBA readers know, is that renewable energy sources are intermittent. If we want a grid that is 100% renewable, we need to include some method of energy storage. Several technologies for energy storage already exist; the main hurdle to their deployment is not technical — it’s the high cost of the systems. At current rates of renewable energy deployment, a 100% renewable energy grid in the United States is still a long way off. For anyone aware of the looming deadlines that we face to avoid climate catastrophe, our slow adoption of energy storage solutions is bad news.
Some island grids are out in front
Many forward-thinking renewable energy engineers are now working on islands. Of course, some islands have no electricity at all. Others have undersea cables that connect to a mainland grid. The interesting ones are those that have independent electricity grids that depend on local electricity generation —…