Is 'Too Much' Wind and Solar a Good Thing?


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By The Interchange: Energy Conversations From GTM and Greentech Media. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

We are going to build a lot more wind and solar over the coming decades. It will inevitably lead to oversupply of these resources on the grid. But is that a good thing?

That’s the focus of this week’s show, featuring a conversation between Shayle Kann and Columbia University's Melissa Lott.

The stars have aligned for a rare win-win-win situation: Solar and wind are popular with politicians; they’re popular with customers; and they’re often the lowest-cost resource, making them an attractive bet for investors.

As we build more solar and wind, many regions will start to look like California does on a sunny spring day, or like West Texas does on a windy night: power prices drop to zero or below, producers curtail excess electricity, creating the dreaded "overproduction” of renewables.

So what do we do with all this carbon-free power?

We asked Melissa Lott and it turns out quite a lot! She argues that renewable oversupply can actually be a feature of the grid, not a bug (even if it causes some minor pests along the way). There are all kinds of new resources we can harness with excess wind and solar.

Melissa is a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy and she and her colleague, Julio Friedman, wrote a paper laying out the case for intentionally overbuilding capacity — and thus intentionally creating oversupply. They lay out a framework for figuring out what to do with intermittent excess energy and zoom in on a case study in New Zealand.

What happens when an aluminum smelter — one that uses a whopping 12% of the county’s annual demand and is powered largely by hydroelectric power — closes down? It was one decarbonization modeler’s dream.

The Interchange is brought to you by the Yale Program in Financing and Deploying Clean Energy. Through this online program, Yale University is training working professionals in clean energy policy, finance, and technology, accelerating the deployment of clean energy worldwide, and mitigating climate change. To connect with Yale expertise, grow your professional network, and deepen your impact, apply before March 14, 2021.

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