Wind and solar power represent important, growing energy resources in the Northwest. They also share a common trait; they are intermittent. This means their electric output fluctuates based on the availability of wind and sunshine.
The challenge for grid operators is that if there is too much or too little power at any one time, blackouts can occur. To balance the grid, we need electric generation to fill in the gaps.
Fortunately, hydroelectric dams can quickly react, releasing water into their turbines when more power is necessary and holding that water back when there is already enough. With hydropower, this important balancing role can be filled without any carbon-emissions.
This harmony between renewables is allowing the Northwest to expand its adoption of solar and wind rapidly. As a region, we’re able to set high goals for carbon-free energy and add these new technologies at a fast pace. Doing so has also allowed us to be more proactive about climate change and its risks to endangered species like orcas and salmon.
Equally as important, our long-standing hydroelectric dams have allowed the Northwest to add thousands of megawatts of renewable resources reliably and at a relatively low price. Northwestern states still have the lowest electricity costs in the nation.
The future for carbon-free energy in the Northwest is promising. Partnered together, hydro, solar, and wind make an excellent team of renewables.
The Bottom Line:
- Hydropower generates half of our energy each year and the majority of our carbon-free energy
- Solar and wind are growing but they require backup because their output fluctuates minute-to-minute
- Hydroelectric dams help balance the fluctuations of solar and wind
- The pairing of hydro with solar and wind has allowed us to add more renewables in our region in a low-cost, carbon-free way