From Green Right Now Reports

A U.S. government study released today is optimistic about bringing wind and solar power onto the western grid.

The analysis by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) shows that the Western grid can accommodate a large input from wind and solar operations without extensive and expensive upgrades.

(Photo: WestConnect)

(Photo: WestConnect)

With better coordination among utilities using the grid serving states in the mountain west and southwest, it could produce 35 percent of its electricity from wind and solar energy by 2017.

The key is that operations would have to take into account the strengths and timing of various power sources to even out supply. Utilities would have to coordinate efforts to manage the grid and the timing of power inputs from wind, which is strongest at night. At the same time, the introduction of these renewable power sources could reduce the need for back up power generation, which contributes to the high cost of producing electricity.

“When you coordinate the operations between utilities across a large geographic area, you decrease the effect of the variability of wind an solar energy resouces, mitigating the unpredictability of Mother Nature,” said Dr. Debra Lew, who coordinated the study by the NREL , which is run by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The 35 percent target exceeds many other estimates and targets. Many states are aiming to have 20 or 25 percent of their power come from renewable sources by various points in the 2020s. The federal government has previously said that wind alone could provide 20 percent of the nation’s power by 2030.

The study looked at the impact of integrating wind and solar power — both photovoltaics, and concentrating solar power — into the power system operated by the WestConnect group of utilities in the mountain and southwest states.

WestConnect is a group of transmission providers, which includes Arizona Public Service, El Paso Electric Co., NV Energy, Public Service of New Mexico, Salt River Project, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Cooperative, Tucson Electric Power, Western Area Power Administration, and Xcel Energy.

The NREL study, called the  The Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, also reported that if the WestConnect group got 27 percent of its power from wind energy it would  lower carbon emissions by 25 to 45 percent.

Fuel and emissions costs could decline by 40 percent, depending on the future price of natural gas.