Problem Identification

Energy is something that we as humans need to improve development, and even need to survive at this point. Our global energy consumption continues to rise as each year passes, and we do not see a reduction in our horizon. Each and every year we produce and consume more energy than the last, in 2016 we saw a 1.6% rise from the previous year, and in 2017 we saw a 2.3% rise in global energy production.[1] Part of this is from our ever-rising population, some is from industrialization in less developed nations, and much of it comes from the existing grid, and populous developed nations with large scale urban development.  The problem is not necessarily our need for more energy, as we have the means to produce the energy. There is no consensus on whether we have truly reached peak oil, as methods to extract oil from new areas are currently being developed. However, whether we have or not is not necessarily the largest problem. Should there be consensus that we have reached peak oil, I believe that the conversion to renewable energies will only be expedited at such point. Where the problem arises is where that energy comes from. Currently the majority of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels like oil, natural gas, and coal. The rise in energy production through these means is putting an extreme amount of stress on our planet, its ecosystems, life, and ozone; all through mediums such as the greenhouse effect, ocean acidification and rising sea levels. The need to explore the use of alternative forms of energy production has never been more apparent. Alternative energies like Solar, Wind, geothermal, turbine, and wave have the capacity to fuel the planets energy needs without question. This brings me to the problem that needs to be addressed; How, or in what ways can we efficiently integrate renewable energy into the grid without disrupting current energy needs? While renewables are seeing a rise in use throughout the world, they have not been successfully integrated into many of the current grid systems, which are used to power the majority of the electrical needs in the united states. In order to explore this question, I will use resources like peer reviewed articles, as well as use key visionaries in the energy industry like Elon Musk.

In order to address this problem, I’m going to break it down into smaller questions. Firstly, what is the grid? How reliable are renewable energies? How easy is it to install these alternative energy productions? How much space does it require? What are the costs associated with this transformation?   The grid is a physical hardwired network sending electrical power to our homes, offices and factories. The grid the United States runs off is nearly 75 years old, and has not been improved drastically since, even with the introduction of better technologies. The united states on average receives 20x more brownouts and blackouts than its other major economic competitors, costing it on average $150 billion every year.[2]  Using the United States is only one example of the grid system, I will explore grid operations in countries around the world. Now, implementing renewable energies into the grid is possible, however there are challenges like variability, that must first be addressed. “the uncertainty and variability of wind and solar generation can pose challenges for grid operators”[3]. The variability of the generation, would require the system to balance its self out, otherwise not enough energy would be produced. Therefor greater flexibility could be needed to facilitate supply-side variability. However, in the case where renewable generation increases when load levels fall or vice versa additional actions are needed to balance the system. The presence of increase renewable energy may cause coal, oil, and natural gas plants to turn on and off more, or to modify their output levels. Doing this could result in faster wear and tear of the facilities, as well as reduced efficiency. Additional problems include the need to further examine reliability impact.[4] To go over, some of the key integration challenges include: grid infrastructure, operational practices, the generation fleet, and regulatory structure, while finding the most economic and viable solution.

Over the next three months I will explore sustainable solutions to this problem; how to integrate renewable energies into current grid systems around the world, without compromising current energy needs of the existing population. This is a global problem, meaning that the solutions have to be capable of being implemented in a variety of different geographical, and economic conditions. Finding a balance of integrating renewable energy into the grid in both an economic, viable, and sustainable way world-wide will require extensive research. However, there is already a significant amount of information on the web about such topic, therefor all I need to do is find it.

This topic fits perfectly into our center of ethics there- The Anthropocene for a few reasons. Firstly, the Anthropocene, references anthropogenic or human. The Anthropocene is considered the commencement of significant human impact on the earth’s geology and ecosystems. Our (humans) use of fossil fuels is one of the main aspects of the Anthropocene. It is our job to ensure that the earth remains a habitable and sustainable place of us to live. Should we continue on the track we are currently on, in 100, 200 years the planet may no longer be hospitable. Figuring out a way to integrate renewable energy into the grid is of paramount importance as the longer we wait to change how we produce energy, the less likely we will be able to save the planet. Should we find a way to integrate renewable energy into the grid in a timely manner, the reversal or slowing of things like the greenhouse effect, and polar ice cap melting looks promising.

Both images are from: Bird, L., et al. “Integrating Variable Renewable Energy: Challenges and Solutions.” Integrating Variable Renewable Energy: Challenges and Solutions, Sept. 2013, www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/60451.pdf.

Source: http://info.aee.net/hubfs/EPA/AEEI-Renewables-Grid-Integration-Case-Studies.pdf?t=1440089933677

Source: http://info.aee.net/hubfs/EPA/AEEI-Renewables-Grid-Integration-Case-Studies.pdf?t=1440089933677

[1] Total energy consumption. (n.d.). Retrieved October 5, 2018, from https://yearbook.enerdata.net/total-energy/world-consumption-statistics.html

[2] Nature Conservancy. “VIDEO: What Is The Grid and Why Modernize It?” Choosing Clean Energy | Nature Conservancy, Sept. 2017, www.choosingcleanenergy.org/video-what-is-the-grid-and-why-modernize-it/.

[3] Bird, L., et al. “Integrating Variable Renewable Energy: Challenges and Solutions.” Integrating Variable Renewable Energy: Challenges and Solutions, Sept. 2013, www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/60451.pdf.

[4] “Continuum Magazine.” National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Home Page | NREL, Aug. 2017, www.nrel.gov/continuum/utility_scale/integrating_wind_solar.html.

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