Rooftop solar panels are flooding California’s grid. That’s a problem.

Synthaholic

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Jul 21, 2010
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Madam President 2024
Wingnuts: "Solar will NEVER replace fossil fuels!!!1!!!"

There's so much solar power, they're dumping it. Which is dumb. Put it toward desalination, which is energy-intensive. Or like the top comment says "Get enough charging stations in parking lots so that people can charge up while at work, during this downtime, instead of charging overnight at home."


Rooftop solar panels are flooding California’s grid. That’s a problem.

As electricity prices go negative, the Golden State is struggling to offload a glut of solar power.

In sunny California, solar panels are everywhere. They sit in dry, desert landscapes in the Central Valley and are scattered over rooftops in Los Angeles’s urban center. By last count, the state had nearly 47 gigawatts of solar power installed — enough to power 13.9 million homes and provide over a quarter of the Golden State’s electricity.

But now, the state and its grid operator are grappling with a strange reality: There is so much solar on the grid that, on sunny spring days when there’s not as much demand, electricity prices go negative. Gigawatts of solar are “curtailed” — essentially, thrown away.

In response, California has cut back incentives for rooftop solar and slowed the pace of installing panels. But the diminishing economic returns may slow the development of solar in a state that has tried to move to renewable energy. And as other states build more and more solar plants of their own, they may soon face the same problems.


“These are not insurmountable challenges,” said Michelle Davis, head of global solar at the energy research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables. “But they are challenges that a lot of grid operators have never had to deal with.”

Solar power has many wonderful properties — once built, it costs almost nothing to run; it produces no air pollution and generates energy without burning fossil fuels. But it also has one major, obvious drawback: The sun doesn’t shine all the time.

Over 15 years ago, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory were in the midst of modeling a future with widespread solar power when they noticed something strange. With lots of solar power on a given electricity grid, the net load — or the demand for electricity minus the renewable energy — would take on a “U” shape. Sky-high demand in the morning would be replaced by almost zero demand in the middle of the day, when solar power could generate virtually all electricity people needed. Then as the sun set, demand surged up again.

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California’s grid operator, known as CAISO, later dubbed this effect the “duck curve.” (If you squint, you can imagine the curve as the belly of a duck.) It’s most prominent in the spring months, when solar panels get plenty of sunshine but there is less demand for heating and cooling.

In recent years in California, the duck curve has become a massive, deep canyon — and solar power is going unused. In 2022, the state wasted 2.4 million megawatt-hours of electricity, 95 percent of which was solar. (That’s roughly 1 percent of the state’s overall power generation in a year, or 5 percent of its solar generation.) Last year, the state did that in just the first eight months.
 
Put it toward desalination, which is energy-intensive. Or like the top comment says "Get enough charging stations in parking lots so that people can charge up while at work, during this downtime, instead of charging overnight at home."
Yep. Many options exist. Too many to rationalize wasting excesses. Use it or store it in various ways.
 

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