Renewables & Reliability

Keeping the power flowing requires an energy mix

Posted on Nov 30 2020 in Marshall County REMC
Mark Batman

Renewable energy is playing an increased role in electricity production. 

While I am in favor of renewables, I am concerned about how much we depend on it. The major forms of renewable energy being produced these days are solar and wind, which are not forms of baseload generation (24/7 electricity production). The industry is retiring aging coal plants, which are baseload generation. So, there may come a time when not enough electricity is produced to meet the required demand. If this were to occur, electric utilities might be forced to use rolling blackouts to protect the grid. No one wants that to happen. 

Currently coal and gas plants adjust their production (whether up or down) to meet the ever-changing needs of production and demand for electricity. This is something I never realized until I started working here 15 years ago. Meanwhile, solar and wind production is controlled by Mother Nature. That means dramatic dips and spikes in production can occur during any hour of the day. When that happens, base load plants must respond quickly to fill our energy needs.

With many coal plants scheduled to be retired in the next five years, what methods will be used to ensure our electricity needs are met? Batteries are one solution. There are a few batteries in service today, mostly out west, and as their technology improves more will be placed in service. The batteries are charged during off peak times and store the energy until it is needed.   

Fortunately for utilities like Marshall County REMC, there is an organization that controls the flow and oversees the production of electricity for our area, which includes parts of Louisiana all the way up to Canada. The Midwest Independent Service Operator (MISO) has a control room in central Indiana that displays power production at specific coal and gas plants, as well as wind, solar, and landfill gas sites. It monitors electricity production and demand in real time, regulates the flow of electricity and ensures that when we flip the switch, our lights come on.

Isn’t it amazing how all of these electric generation sources are connected and controlled to give us just the right amount of electricity that we need at that specific time?