Intermittent resources create unique challenges for 21st Century Utilities, RTO’s and System Operators. The now infamous "Duck Chart" highlights a key element of the problem — central station thermal plants cannot ramp efficiently, leading to "worst of all" scenarios where the benefits of renewables are not fully utilized and central station plants operate inefficiently for extended periods.
By contrast, fast-ramping distributed generation creates a path to the opposite result. With fast-ramping support, central station plants remain at an efficient "steady state" while intermittent renewables operate at maximum output, providing emission-free generation with no variable fuel costs. These efficiencies result in substantial and quantifiable economic benefits.
The U.S. Defense Department (DOD) seeks to procure renewable energy at or below market prices, and is not considering fast ramping generation in its current procurement plans. Because there is no economic incentive for DOD to invest in such resources, and because markets for fast-ramping generation and ancillary services are largely non-existent, the current policy framework lacks a vehicle for attracting investment in fast-ramping distributed energy and related technologies.
Manufacturers of fast-ramping generation equipment are studying issues relating to intermittent energy resources. Among other initiatives, they have developed economic models that demonstrate system-wide efficiencies produced by fast-ramping technologies. The models have been vetted by credible public and private sector organizations and found to be both accurate and insightful.
With their policy expertise and purchasing power, the Department of Energy and DOD can play a role in developing policies and markets that allow such technologies to take hold and proliferate.