Rick Sergel, president and CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), urged the electric industry to focus on solutions to the technical challenges posed by large-scale integration of renewable resources in his keynote address at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s technical conference.

In his remarks, Sergel challenged the audience to get down to business, saying “The need to reliably integrate renewable resources is no longer a question, it is a priority.” According to data in NERC’s 2008 Long Term Reliability Assessment, 145,000 MW of wind generation is proposed to be added to the grid over the next 10 years – though all of it will not be built.

“We absolutely need transmission – we estimate tens of thousands of miles of new transmission is needed to unlock location-constrained, remote energy resources and maintain reliability. Building it will require us to address the barriers that have contributed to limited transmission development over the past 20 years: for example, state-by-state planning and approval of siting and cost allocation for multi-state high voltage transmission in the United States is not sufficient. Addressing these two elements will have positive implications for system planning. First attempts, like the work of WECC with the Western Governor’s Association and the Joint Coordinated System Plan in the east, show the industry is both willing and capable of developing interconnection-wide plans.”

“It’s also clear that demand-side options, like energy efficiency and particularly demand response, have a critical role to play in managing overall energy use and acting as a “dancing partner” for variable generation. Beyond energy independence, Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles will also offer an opportunity to expand electricity storage, creating grid resources and potentially shifting peak usage. But to realize these potential benefits, we must build a smarter grid.”

“Still, even with energy efficiency, a full portfolio of resources will be needed to support the development of variable generation. We will still need baseload options to keep the lights on. Today – baseload options are primarily nuclear and coal. We simply can’t turn our backs on these needed resources.”

Sergel went on to announce the organization’s upcoming special report, “Accommodating High Levels of Variable Generation,” due out in late March. “A one sentence summary is: ‘We’ve got work to do.’” The special report features the work of NERC’s Integration of Variable Generation Task Force, commissioned by its planning and operating committees in 2008.

“We can build a system that unlocks the renewable resources we need to ensure a clean, reliable, and secure energy future for North America, but we will need the support of our governments, business leaders, and the people of North America to achieve this,” Sergel continued. “All of us have the unique opportunity to lead and the responsibility to succeed.”