Friday, April 8, 2011

Does Solar Energy Hurt the Grid?

Solar power is in on the rise in the U.S. and it is helping consumers take control of their electric bills. Instead of simply consuming energy through the grid from a power plant, solar homeowners are generating their own electricity but also sending excess electricity generated from their solar panels back onto the grid. A recent article from the San Diego Union-Tribune wonders what the impact is of thousands of solar systems turning the electric grid from a one-way highway from a power plant to your home to a bi-directional flow of electricity.

Power then flows both ways, affecting the amount and quality of electricity. As more and more solar panels are installed, the possible headaches for those who run the grid grows….

…a single large installation in the county, a one-megawatt array, fluctuated from making 700 kilowatts to making nothing on a second-by-second basis as clouds passed by.

That caused the voltage on the circuit to which it's connected to fluctuate beyond the standards, as more power had to be brought in to deal with it.

Voltage is a function of how much power is on a system and where it comes from Fluctuations can cause malfunctions for customers.

The one draw back to solar power is that it is sunlight dependent so, as the article points out, a large solar array could be generating large amounts of energy for the grid one minute and then completely shut off the next minute creating a huge power fluctuations that can affect non-solar customers.

One way utility providers are trying to deal with this issue is through better forecasting, energy storage and cloud tracking. In addition, understanding consumer behavior with respect to electricity usage will also help as utility providers could potentially engage turbines that are already spinning in reserve and ready to put power on the grid or in grid batteries. The problem with this is that these changes cost money and for the most part, those using renewable energy systems are not shouldering their share of the burden.

Most solar customers right now put extra power they make during the day on the grid, then draw power at night when the sun is not shining.

In effect, they're using the grid as a giant battery.

Right now, the cost of the wires, cables and substations is included as part of the electricity, the actual energy you use. But if people are making as much electricity as they use -- or if they make more -- they're not paying for the cost of running the grid.

Renewable energy, particular solar energy, is a wonderful technology that can help provide clean power to consumers and help them save money over the long term. However, this article highlights some of the issues that we have to face as we attempt to integrate these technologies into our existing infrastructure. As more and more people turn on to solar power, grid issues will only get worse unless the proper solutions and funding for those solutions are found.



Miles said...

Pardon my lack of sympathy for utilities when "those using renewable energy are not shouldering their share of the burden." Do the utilities share their profits with customers when they make money?
Utilities own their portions of the power grid. It's amazing to me that they expect us to pay for smart meters, which they then own, as they owned the previous dumb meters. I'd say consumers paying for those meters is "shouldering their share of the burden." So is that fact that people who generate their own electricity part of the time using grid-generated power when the sun's not out, or the wind's not blowing.
Those who use renewable energy sources to generate electricity for their own needs lessen the burden of utilities to supply electricity to the rest of us. They reduce the need for utilities to bring additional generation online when demand spikes, which saves the utilities tons of money, and seems to be part of the "shouldering of the burden" of keeping the grid running and economical. That makes this a win-win situation.

Randy said...

"grid issues will only get worse" please provide some evidence...

so if we all turn a toaster on at the same time will the grid collapse as well?!

If this were a problem you would think German power lines would be down all the time... Many countries have plenty of solar installed with no issues so far - this article needs to have some facts and science applied to it.

Michael said...

They also forget the power conpanie buys power from homes at a low cost. Not even close to the amount they would else ware. They try to say that the power companies don't make enough...... leave it to the sd union the make fox news appear liberal!