As Electric System Evolves, Reliability Comes in New Ways

February 13, 2021

As ever more renewable energy is added to the electric grid, utilities continue to preserve one of electricity’s most important qualities: reliability.

When our members flip the switch, they expect lights to turn on It takes a lot of technology and talented people working together to make that happen.

Large conventional power plants that have been shutting down in recent years are often replaced with new generators, such as wind turbines and solar panels, that can produce electricity at a lower cost. But because most of those resources rely on the wind and the sun, they need a dependable backup.

“Renewable energy paired with flexible generation is a proven recipe for affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible energy,” said Jon Brekke, vice president and chief power supply officer for Stearns Electric Association’s wholesale energy provider, Great River Energy. “Today, our natural gas-fueled power plants serve an essential role in maintaining reliable power supply.”

Great River Energy has a fleet of peaking plants ready to produce energy when its members or the larger grid need it. They can start up in a matter of minutes and ramp production up or down quickly to supply energy and balance the grid. When combined with the high availability of wind in the Midwest, natural gas peaking plants provide stability today and flexibility for a future with new technologies and opportunities.

Batteries are a possible future solution

Energy storage has long been viewed as a promising option for reliability. However, current storage technology is limited to short-term periods and unable to cost-effectively fulfill the role currently performed by peaking plants. Longer duration storage is being developed that may someday offer a competitive option for providing reliability and flexibility.

Great River Energy is working with a U.S. battery technology developer on a first-of-its-kind demonstration of a long-duration storage technology. The 1-megawatt storage pilot project will be located in Cambridge, Minnesota with completion targeted for late 2023.