Benefits of more renewable power offset burdens, study finds

A high level of wind and solar use would not increase costs or emissions from power plants that have to start and stop frequently to balance the grid, according to a study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The study was based on simulations of power generation along the west coast. It was prompted by concerns that intermittent wind and solar energy could cause higher maintenance costs and emissions for coal and natural gas plants that have to fluctuate their loads to make up for drops in renewable energy production.

But the study’s simulations showed that while the frequent cycling of fossil fuel plants would cause higher maintenance costs, they would be used far less because of high levels of solar and wind generation.

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With one-third of the grid along the west coast running on wind or solar energy, fossil fuel costs would drop $7 billion annually in that region, the study said.

Maintenance costs at fossil fuel power plants would jump as much as $157 million annually, but those costs would be far less than the savings resulting from higher renewable energy usage, the report said.

At the same time, using solar and wind to make up 33 percent of the grid on the west coast would cut carbon dioxide emissions at least 29 percent, while reducing nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions by at least 16 percent and 14 percent, the report said.

A prior phase of the study found that there would be no technical barriers to integrating as much as 35 percent solar and wind energy into the grid on the west coast.


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