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The US grid is ready for 100% renewables, says DoE

A $26m chunk of the infrastructure bill set aside to prove it can handle inverter-based energy

The Biden administration is confident in the US's ability to demonstrate its power grid can run entirely on clean power, so it's giving the Department of Energy $26 million to stand up projects to do this.

The announcement from the DoE said money from President Joe Biden's 2021 infrastructure bill will fund the endeavor, known as the Solar and Wind Grid Services and Reliability Demonstration (SWGSRD).

The demonstration initiative will see up to 10 solar, wind and energy storage projects deployed around the country at existing solar and wind facilities capable of generating at least 10 MW of power. 

"Americans do not have to choose between a clean grid and a reliable one as we move forward towards our goals of a net-zero economy by 2050," said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. 

Proving the green grid

Clean energy detractors have long argued that a transition to green energy simply isn't possible due to reliability factors, which Granholm said the DoE will prove isn't the case. 

"Solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources can keep the lights on without service interruptions, while creating good paying jobs," Granholm said.

The DoE said the US electrical grid was built to deliver power from a few large fossil fuel-burning facilities, but the production levels of renewables are forcing that to change.

"DOE investments have led to the development of new tools that enable grid operators to manage this increasingly complex network. Now those tools need to be demonstrated at a broader scale," the agency said.

The SWGSRD demo is meant to show it can cope with multiple low inputs.

The DoE's demonstration project covers two topics: Design and implementation of new wind and solar grid services designs, and figuring out how to protect bulk power systems from outages caused by inverter-based resources (of which solar and wind are types). 

As they don't generate energy compatible with the grid, solar and wind plants don't feed energy directly into it, instead being separated by inverters that translate it into something the grid can use.

In the case of wind, energy is generated as an alternating current – the same that flows from the generators of conventional power plants through to the grid – but differences in frequency require it to be converted. Solar panels generate DC power, which has to be converted to AC.

For the topic of grid design, the DoE wants projects that "combine at least 10 megawatts of solar, wind, and storage to conduct long-duration demonstrations." The agency said the projects will focus on developing "centralized and/or autonomous local controls that demonstrate the feasibility of these facilities to reliably respond to operational commands and schedules in the existing bulk power grid." 

Projects covering the second topic of ensuring reliability "will be expected to advance protection modeling and simulation capabilities and to develop technologies and strategies to maintain transmission grid reliability at any level of inverter-based generation." 

The DoE is inviting "utilities, laboratories, equipment manufacturers, software vendors, engineering firms, and universities (including community colleges)" to apply to the program. Submissions for concepts close on September 1, while those with a full plan have until November 10.

The Biden administration has set a number of renewable energy goals for the US, including 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2030, and net-zero emissions for the federal government by 2050. ®

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