The Latest: When wind and solar need reliable backup power

Western grid operators can now buy backup power on a real-time, open market to smooth intermittent renewables.

  • High-voltage transmission lines in central Arizona.

    Jonathan Thompson
 

Backstory

Because wind and solar fluctuate, utilities build expensive power plants, usually fueled by natural gas, to smooth energy spikes and dips. The cost increases the price of solar and wind. Renewable energy advocates argue that, instead of the West’s 38 grid operating entities each having its own fleet of backup plants, it makes more sense to pool resources, buying and selling backup power on the open market (“The power grid may determine whether we can kick our carbon habit,” HCN, 6/3/13).

 

Followup

As of Oct. 1, the California Independent System Operator and PacifiCorps, which together power 32 million customers, joined such a scheme, called an energy imbalance market — the first one ever created in the West. It will help them smooth out variations in burgeoning renewable power sources and make those sources more cost-effective and appealing to utilities and their customers. Should the market succeed, proponents expect other Western grid operators to join in as well.