With Cheap Solar And Wind Power, Is It Time To Rethink Energy Efficiency?

With Cheap Solar And Wind Power, Is It Time To Rethink Energy Efficiency?

The need to cut emissions from the energy sector has motivated the use of hydro, solar and wind power, and the development of more efficient buildings that consume less energy. And these solutions have indeed slightly reduced the world’s per-capita energy emissions. But once renewables really do become dominant, the entire concept of “energy efficiency” will become outdated.

In simple terms, energy efficiency is the amount of energy used to produce a service such as warmth, transport or entertainment. In practice, particularly when applied to buildings and cities, this objective translates to “reducing all energy consumption at all times”.

Such a strategy makes sense when energy is mostly generated from carbon-intensive fossil fuels, in power plants that can easily be switched on and off as demand fluctuates. There is a simple and direct link: if you use less energy, less coal or gas will be burnt, and less carbon will be emitted.

But renewable energy changes things. The wind and sun are both free and almost infinite, and therefore each extra unit of energy generated is not only clean but also essentially free. With little downside to using more electricity when it is available, we’ll need to rethink energy efficiency.

Is less always more?

The crux of the issue is the need to balance supply and demand. In electricity systems, the two must be evenly matched at all times or the system will collapse, leaving everyone without power. This is not a big issue when most generation is controllable and can respond to changes in the demand/supply balance, for example if a large generator suddenly has a problem or if 26m people all put the kettle on at once.

The picture is completely different once electricity is mostly renewable. At this point there would be larger and more frequent last-minute changes in generation, perhaps resulting from changes in the amount of sunshine or wind. And, as turbines and solar panels would have largely displaced traditional power plants, there would be fewer controllable generators to balance supply and demand (turbines and panels can of course be disconnected, but the wind and sun cannot be turned on). In fact, some power plants will operate just for the sake of balancing the system.

In this context, what happens when there is a surplus? It won’t always be possible to reduce the output of controllable (mostly fossil-fuel) generators, either because they cannot react fast enough or because they need to remain online to help balance the system in the near future. It may be possible to store some of the excess electricity in a battery for use later, but batteries are still very expensive. We are a long way from having enough storage for this to become a realistic option. With more power being generated than used, clean and cheap electricity may go to waste.

It’s a matter of time

Timing is key. If people are focused on minimising how much electricity they use at all times then they will ultimately miss out on the benefits of using clean and cheap renewable power for laundry, preheating homes, charging cars or other time-flexible services. They could even switch from gas to electric heating at times when most electricity is renewable, a move that would increase electricity consumption but reduce overall energy costs and emissions.

Consumption would ideally be reduced at times when that meant switching off fossil-fuel generators, rather than wind or solar farms. Indeed customers are already being paid to use more electricity during periods of high renewable energy surplus. These “demand response” schemes where flexible consumers benefit from changing their consumption (not just decreasing it) are an effective way to make energy cheaper and cleaner.

Location matters

The timing of reduced electricity consumption matters, but so does the location. Electricity is of course rarely used right next to where it was generated, and the network that links the two can become saturated – particularly during periods of high demand or generation surplus. At these points, bottlenecks may prevent large amounts of renewable generation in one part of the network from being transported to consumers in another. That demand may instead be met with electricity from fossil fuels while the renewable generators are curtailed. This can ultimately increase costs for bill-payers.

The ConversationAll those who want to see a cleaner, cheaper energy system will need to redefine “energy efficiency” to account for the importance of timing and location. Remember that using less electricity saves more money and emissions at some times of the day and in some places compared to others. Though it may be counter-intuitive, in times and places where renewable generation would otherwise be curtailed, it is actually desirable to use more electricity.

About The Author

Nicholas Good, Research Associate, Electrical Energy and Power Systems, University of Manchester and Eduardo Martínez Ceseña, Research Associate, Electrical Energy and Power Systems, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related Books

InnerSelf Market

Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
ug83qrfw
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.