RE needn't break networks – IEA

Wind and solar generation can be integrated into power networks at minimal cost – provided that systems are sufficiently flexible and the process is properly planned, according to a new study from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The Paris-based body said rapidly-growing deployment of variable renewables has inevitably asked questions of existing power systems, and their ability to adapt and operate cost-effectively.

Its new study The Power of Transformation - Wind, Sun and the Economics of Flexible Power Systems concludes that integrating the first 5-10% of variable renewable energy (VRE) generation poses no technical or economic challenges, as long as conditions such as uncontrolled local “hot spots” of renewable deployment are avoided.

And it confirms that integrating high shares – 30% of annual electricity production or more – of wind and PV can come at little additional long-term cost.

However, those costs depend on how flexible the system currently is and what strategy is adopted for the long term.

“Adding VRE rapidly without adapting the system, is bound to increase costs,” says Paolo Frankl, head of the renewable energy division at the IEA.

Managing this transition will be more difficult for some countries or power systems than others, the study adds.

IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven said the challenges vary from areas such as Europe – “where there is a mismatch between the market conditions and the need to integrate renewables” – to growing economies.

In “dynamic” power systems such as in India, China, Brazil and other emerging economies, wind and solar can be cost-effective solutions to meet incremental demand, said van der Hoeven.

With proper investments, a flexible system can be built from the very start, in parallel with the deployment of VRE, allowing such nations to leap straight to a 21-century power system and “reap the benefits”, she concludes.