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The “Tragedy of the Commons” is an economic theory first authored by Garrett Hardin. It states that
individuals acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the
best interests of the group as a whole, by depleting some common resource.
We normally think of the “Commons” in conjunction with Climate Change in general or depletion of the
ocean’s fish stocks, but the “Commons" in the case of Variable Resource Energy (VRE), such as wind
and solar, is the grid that provides essential integration support necessary to their success.
John Thompson, at the time, Director of the Fossil Energy Transition Project for Clean Air Task Force,
made a presentation at the Pittsburgh Carbon Capture & Sequestration Conference in April 2014. The
topic was System Integration as related to renewables.
The original work was authored and presented Ueckerdt, Falko and Hirth, Lion and Luderer, Gunnar and
Edenhofer, Ottmar, System LCOE: What are the Costs of Variable Renewables? (January 14, 2013).
The following graphic from that paper illustrates the key take-away and integration cost components:
Final electricity share of wind (%)
Highlights as published in the paper:
At the moment, integration costs are an afterthought and borne by the utility infrastructure. As with any
“Commons”, there will come a day when the resource can no longer be sustained.
These effects are both complicated and amplified by the various state level Renewable Portfolio
Standards (RPS) and the Production Tax Credits (PTC) currently in force or pending.