Frontier Group


Renewable Energy Is on the Grid

Updating the power grid to handle more renewable energy is a manageable task that the U.S. is more than equipped to take on. We are adding more wind and solar power every year, and with some innovation and the example of countries that power themselves with solar and wind energy, the U.S. can continue to move towards a clean energy future.

Judee Burr

Policy Analyst

Last week in the L.A Times, Evan Halper outlined the challenges of updating the U.S. power grid to handle an increase in the use of clean, renewable energy. Updating the grid will require hard work, ingenuity and investment, no doubt. But it is a manageable task that does not merit the pessimistic hand-wringing that characterizes Halper’s story.

First, it’s important to note that America has added lots of renewable energy in the last few years and hasn’t broken the grid yet. U.S. states like California and Texas have been leading the way in bringing more solar and wind power online using strong policies like renewable energy standards, net metering and renewable energy tax credits. The U.S. installed a record-setting number of solar energy systems during the past few months of 2013 – bringing over 10 GW of solar power online in the U.S. This is enough to produce the amount of electricity used by 1.7 million average U.S. homes. We can also power the equivalent of 15 million average U.S. homes with the 45,100 wind turbines operating in the U.S. at the end of 2012. These renewable energy installations are also cost-effective. Solar and wind energy are beginning to out-compete fossil fuels, and the prices of these clean energy installations continue to fall.

Second, other nations have already succeeded in integrating far more renewable energy into their electric grids than the United States. Germany is bringing more and more renewable energy online and hit a peak this summer when 60 percent of its energy came from renewable sources. Denmark sources 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Not only have those nations integrated renewable energy successfully, but Germany remains committed to plans to get 80 percent of its power from renewables by 2050.

American researchers and grid experts say that the United States could generate far more electricity from renewables at reasonable cost and maintain a well-functioning grid. A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory states that it is technically possible to meet U.S. electricity demand every hour of the day with 80 percent coming from renewable sources.  Getting there will require a major re-think of how the grid operates, as well as the development of new technologies, including energy storage technologies. The company Hitachi unveiled a new energy storage technology for renewable energy last week, and last week Danielle Fong was named one of Time Magazine’s “30 People Under 30 Changing the World” for her innovative energy storage research.

Utility companies with a stake in the fossil-fuel powered grid of the past may want us to buy into fears of disaster and bring clean energy development screeching to a halt. But policy makers shouldn’t let their “can’t do” spirit undermine America’s transition to a cleaner energy system. The challenges of updating the grid to accommodate more renewables can be met through investment and innovation. It’s time to get started. 


Judee Burr

Policy Analyst