Integrating variable energy resources to the electric power grid

Michael Giberson

Are their barriers impeding integration of variable energy resources to the electric grid? FERC wants to know:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission) seeks comment on the extent to which barriers may exist that impede the reliable and efficient integration of variable energy resources (VERs) into the electric grid, and whether reforms are needed to eliminate those barriers. In order to meet the challenges posed by the integration of increasing numbers of VERs, ensure that jurisdictional rates are just and reasonable, eliminate impediments to open access transmission service for all resources, facilitate the efficient development of infrastructure, and ensure that the reliability of the grid is maintained, the Commission seeks to explore whether reforms are necessary to ensure that wholesale electricity tariffs are just, reasonable and not unduly discriminatory. This Notice will enable the Commission to determine whether wholesale electricity tariff reforms are necessary.

Hmmm, “variable energy resources”?  Does that mean things like steam generation units that can be adjusted up and down over some range (but not things like a gas turbine that is either on or off, but not adjustable in between)? No, they mean “variable but not very controllable energy resources” such as wind and solar power.  They write: “For purposes of this proceeding, the term variable energy resource (VER) refers to renewable energy resources that are characterized by variability in the fuel source that is beyond the control of the resource operator.”

I wonder why they didn’t just use the term “renewable energy resources”? Were they afraid of offending hydro and geothermal interests?  Are they hoping to ease the taint of not-very-controllable from renewable energy resources?

The proceeding is “Integration of Variable Energy Resources” (FERC RM10-11-000). In paragraph 10, FERC states:

Our goal is not to adopt rules that favor one type of supply source over another. Instead, the Commission’s purpose in this proceeding is to investigate market and operational reforms necessary to achieve two goals: first, to ensure that rates for jurisdictional service are just and reasonable, reflecting the implementation of practices that increase the efficiency of providing service; and second, to prevent VERs from facing undue discrimination. These goals are consistent with the requirements of sections 205 and 206 of the FPA.

The challenge here is in separating the “due discrimination” from the “undue discrimination,” which is to say the charges and special terms and conditions applied to VERs that are reasonable given the character of the resource from the charges, terms and conditions which are unreasonable.

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2 thoughts on “Integrating variable energy resources to the electric power grid

  1. There are other variable sources; some could become significant in size. Cogeneration facilities are found where heat is needed for an industrial process, but electricity can be generated as a byproduct and fed to the grid. With each batch of production, electricity is generated, and then disappears when the batch is complete. Some experiments are underway with fuel cells at first as backup power systems, that as sources that can produce grid power at the discretion of the owner. This is particularly the case when a fuel cell or other generator runs continuously, but the on-site demand for the power varies and falls, so the amount supplied to the grid varies uncontrollably. Clearly the value of variable power, and the rules for its procurement into grids, deserves study, independent of whether the power is renewable or fossil-fueled.

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