How renewable energy is improving grid reliability

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While wind turbines and solar panels are still intermittent power sources dependent on sunny and breezy days to produce electricity, new technology is improving the reliability of these growing renewable energy sources.

More durable construction, higher-efficiency equipment, and advancements in energy storage are making it easier for operators to reliably integrate wind farms and solar arrays into overall operations.

A study released last month by the American Wind Energy Association explored the positive impact renewable energy is having on maintaining consistent supply and demand. When looking at the issue of reliability, the study concluded that under certain conditions, large utility wind and solar projects are providing “grid reliability services as well as or better than conventional power plants.”

Portfolio diversity, the study stressed, is key. No power source, including power plants fueled by coal, natural gas or nuclear, operate at 100 percent all of the time. So grid operators are accustomed to fluctuation and plan for the contributions made by renewable resources with the same tools used to evaluate other power sources.

Some of the advancements in renewable energy technology include higher output wind turbine designs, new software applications that create smarter wind farms, and new solar panel design and construction. Turbine manufacturers are designing and building turbines that can function effectively both on and off shore. Improvements to design are increasing capacity; enhancements to gearboxes are minimizing breakdowns, and highly sophisticated hardware and software applications are making this equipment smarter and more connected than ever before.

On the solar side, demand in the U.S. is at an all-time high, with the country poised to soon become the second largest solar market in the world. One of the latest advancements in solar panel technology is the double-sided panel, formally known as bi-facial solar panels. When mounted on the ground, these panels improve efficiency and reliability because they capture light that is naturally reflected off the ground. In the winter, the modules will capture light reflected on the snow-covered ground as well as light from the sun.

At DTE Energy, we are also very focused on proactive preventative maintenance. For example, DTE recently installed condition monitoring systems on all of our turbines that provide early detection of equipment problems.  By detecting issues prior to failures, we can often avoid large expenditures and extended downtime. We also opened an operations facility in Bad Axe, Mich., the Huron Renewable Energy Center, close to our wind parks so technicians are nearby should an issue arise.

With generation capacity improving and advances in technology, DTE is generating more renewable energy at lower costs than ever before. Tune into this podcast with Dave Harwood, DTE’s Director of Renewable Energy, to learn more.