The posting below talks about the difficulties in integrating solar and wind into the electric grid. It is well worth reading. Having working with electric utilities since 1981 and having taken college-level electrical engineering (I have a minor in engineering) I can vouch for its accuracy.
A friend emailed this morning, What would you recommend? Fair question.
If we want wind and solar to play a bigger role, it is a mistake -- at this time -- to build more wind and solar. I know that sounds counterintuitive but more wind and solar makes the grid -- and the electric service we receive -- less reliable. So, if the federal government or industry are looking for a big, important research area: Electrical storage! That way, wind and solar (which tend to generate the most power when it isn't needed) could be valuable additions to the grid.
The other, even more necessary, area for research is what some call "second generation nuclear." This is built around very safe (does not use nuclear fission as we think of it today, can't "melt down"). Many believe if some basic problems we solved it would not only be carbon free but would also be cheaper than today's electricity.
My friend, Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., argues that if people concerned about catastrophic global warming want to decarbonize energy, it needs to be made cheaper and at least equally reliable as conventional energy. I agree. These two steps, if physically possible, are the ways to do it. This is where we should be spending our research money at this time.
Make carbon-free energy energy reliable and affordable? I'm all for it!!