Teach the Duck To Fly: Integrating Renewable Energy



An unlikely animal is the new face of renewable energy in the US. The “duck” curve illustrates the load shape some grid operators expect to contend with as increasing levels of wind and solar resources create ramping challenges for conventional generation. Join just about any industry conference or conversation about integrating renewables, and the duck surfaces to stick its neck into the conversation.

While some entrenched interests use the duck to support the argument that integrating renewable resources is nearly impossible and to call for rolling back renewable portfolio standards, the duck presents an opportunity to manage the grid with greater efficiency, increased energy security, and lower emissions. The “coming of the duck” and the portfolio of solutions available to “teach the duck to fly” have been hiding in plain sight for years. Whether you Deal with the Duck, or Teach it to Fly, a wide variety of tools exist to flatten the load shape, and integrate greater amounts of renewable energy onto the grid.

In Teaching the Duck to Fly, Jim Lazar takes aim at the duck curve and provides readily available options utilities can use to adapt to high penetrations of variable renewables without turning into sitting ducks. Metaphorically, Mr. Lazar teaches the duck to fly by applying existing opportunities in energy storage, energy pricing, demand response, and renewable energy technologies to flatten load shapes.

Mr. Lazar suggests ten low-carbon strategies that utilities can mix and match to create a load shape that can be met with existing resources.

“Each of the strategies—such as implementing aggressive demand response programs or targeting efficiency to the hours when load ramps up sharply—creates modest changes in the load shape,” said Mr. Lazar. “But, when combined, they completely solve the problem by turning the sitting duck into a streamlined flying duck. The resulting load curve is easier to serve than the projected load would have been, even without the addition of renewable resources.”

Although the ten strategies leverage existing technology, wholesale market rules often reward utilities for investing in inflexible, baseload plants incapable of ramping in response to variable renewable resources. Evolving markets to treat demand-side resources the same as supply-side and purchase resources based on their flexible capabilities will send the right price signals to utilities to invest in the technologies needed to flatten the duck curve.

Potential market adaptations include paying for fast-ramping services, creating more accurate price signals that mean more money for resources that are flexible and fast-acting and less money for those that aren’t, and allowing demand response to bid into energy, services, and capacity markets. RAP’s Mike Hogan and Bentham Paulos, of America’s Power Plan, expand on these market design ideas in the January 2014 edition of Public Utilities Fortnightly.

The duck curve is not the “Duck of Doom” many have made it out to be. Rather, the duck presents an opportunity for utilities and regulators alike to evaluate resource decisions and move towards those with greater flexibility, enhanced reliability, and lower cost than conventional generation. The resulting grid will be better able to integrate the renewable resources consumers demand, and the transition much more cost-effective.