This post looks at the message promoted by the gas industry that natural gas is the necessary complement to renewables such as solar and wind, because the latter are variable and thus need a backup power source that can quickly be brought on line. There are other and perhaps even better ways of addressing variability that also need looking at.
Wind farms up here in the Pacific Northwest may soon be shut down temporarily because there is no transmission capacity to move this green renewable power to where it is needed. A record snowfall in the mountains at the headwaters of the Columbia river system is about to begin melting and will send a surge of water down the river. Because this water cannot be sent over the spill ways without endangering already endangered Salmon and Steelhead fish it needs to be run through the turbines. There is just too much power for the regional markets and the existing transmission infrastructure to handle and thus wind farms are likely to be idled. What this exposes is the need for an improved Ultra high voltage long distance electric transmission network that is capable of moving surplus power from one region to another.
What is the variability problem of wind and solar energy, how serious of a problem is this and what can be done to fix it? This article examines this issue of variability, describing and defining it and listing some of the ways in which the unique challenges of wind and solar energy is being or can be addressed.