The linked research finds that recent market advances in renewable energy (like solar & wind) have both promoted the use of shale gas/fracking (via natural gas power plants) and have served to suppress the growth of battery use in the power grid. The longer this situation goes on the more we will be tied to the use of shale gas (which due to leaks typically has a higher GWP than coal) for at least the service life of these fast reacting fossil fuel plants.
Elena Verdolini, Francesco Vona, David Popp (July 2016), "Bridging the Gap: Do Fast Reacting Fossil Technologies Facilitate Renewable Energy Diffusion?", NBER Working Paper No. 22454http://www.nber.org/papers/w22454?utm_campaign=ntw&utm_medium=email&utm_source=ntw
Abstract: "The diffusion of renewable energy in the power system implies high supply variability. Lacking economically viable storage options, renewable energy integration has so far been possible thanks to the presence of fast-reacting mid-merit fossil-based technologies, which act as back-up capacity. This paper discusses the role of fossil-based power generation technologies in supporting renewable energy investments. We study the deployment of these two technologies conditional on all other drivers in 26 OECD countries between 1990 and 2013. We show that a 1% percent increase in the share of fast-reacting fossil generation capacity is associated with a 0.88% percent increase in renewable in the long run. These results are robust to various modifications in our empirical strategy, and most notably to the use of system-GMM techniques to account for the interdependence of renewable and fast-reacting fossil investment decisions. Our analysis points to the substantial indirect costs of renewable energy integration and highlights the complementarity of investments in different generation technologies for a successful decarbonization process."
Extract: "Because of the particular nature of clean energy sources like solar and wind, you can’t simply add them to the grid in large volumes and think that’s the end of the story. Rather, because these sources of electricity generation are “intermittent” — solar fluctuates with weather and the daily cycle, wind fluctuates with the wind — there has to be some means of continuing to provide electricity even when they go dark. And the more renewables you have, the bigger this problem can be.
Now, a new study suggests that at least so far, solving that problem has ironically involved more fossil fuels — and more particularly, installing a large number of fast-ramping natural gas plants, which can fill in quickly whenever renewable generation slips.
“Our paper calls attention to the fact that renewables and fast-reacting fossil technologies appear as highly complementary and that they should be jointly installed to meet the goals of cutting emissions and ensuring a stable supply,” the paper adds.
The type of “fast-reacting fossil technologies” being referred to here is natural gas plants that fire up quickly. For example, General Electric and EDF Energy currently feature a natural gas plant in France that “is capable of reaching full power in less than 30 minutes.” Full power, in this case, means rapidly adding over 600 megawatts, or million watts, of electricity to the grid.
“This allows partners to respond quickly to grid demand fluctuations, integrating renewables as necessary,” note the companies.
“When people assume that we can switch from fossil fuels to renewables they assume we can completely switch out of one path, to another path,” says Verdolini. But, she adds, the study suggests otherwise.
Verdolini emphasized this merely describes the past — not necessarily the future. That’s a critical distinction, because the study also notes that if we reach a time when fast-responding energy storage is prevalent — when, say, large-scale grid batteries store solar or wind-generated energy and can discharge it instantaneously when there’s a need — then the reliance on gas may no longer be so prevalent.
Other recent research has suggested that precisely because of this overlap between fast-firing natural gas plants and grid scale batteries — because they can play many of the same roles — extremely cheap natural gas prices have helped the industry out-compete the storage sector and slowed its growth."