I came across an interesting article this morning about the challenges of installing increasing amounts of wind and solar power in the electrical grid. From my vantage point in the power industry, I agree with most of the information in the article. Wind developers are ready to build wind farms all over the place if only they had transmission system access and capacity to be able to deliver the power to consumers. The biggest difficulty with building new transmission lines is siting. No one wants a high voltage transmission line running through their back yard, and because dozens or even hundreds of landowners must acquiesce to the route of a transmission line for it to be built, the process of siting a new line can be quite difficult, and the many zig-zags that can result from going around obstinate land-owners increase the cost and construction time of building a new line.
The article also talks about a "smart grid" that allows demand to be responsive to market prices or system conditions. The technology is definitely there for such an application, but I think it will be difficult to convince distribution companies to change out all the meters that would need to be upgraded to be able to implement the smart grid. Even a small town can easily have thousands of meters, and at costs of hundreds of dollars per meter and probably hundreds of thousands of dollars for the home-base and substation communication equipment, there has to be some substantial financial incentive for them to do so.
One final issue that the article does not mention but which is significant is that the power engineering workforce is limited. My office is as busy as we could be and still hiring aggressively. At a recent seminar that I attended at which there were representatives from a competitor, the joke was that we didn't need to steal work from one another—we needed to steal employees. The power engineering workforce is aging and shrinking, and there are few engineering schools that still have strong power engineering curriculum. Though this may be a detriment to the massive investment in renewable energy that some are calling for, it bodes well for me personally as I am likely to good job prospects even through tough economic times.