Increasing solar penetration causes grid instability – independently jacks up manufacturing costs – turns their competitiveness args
St. John, 9 – reporter and analyst for Greentech Media covering the green technology space, with a particular focus on smart grid, smart buildings, energy efficiency, demand response, energy storage, green IT, renewable energy and technology to integrate distributed, intermittent green energy into the grid (Jeff, “Will Solar Crash the Smart Grid?” Green Tech Media, 11/2,
The proliferation of solar panels will effectively transform commercial districts and neighborhoods into small, localized power plants. While that will allow utilities to cut back on coal, the unpredictable, varying nature of solar power will force grid operators to dispatch or throttle power rapidly. Solar-balancing smart grid systems now confined to pilot projects will need to become common features pretty soon.
"That future is coming, and it's coming a lot faster than I think many people are aware of," said Chris Baker, CIO of utility San Diego Gas & Electric. (Execs from SDG&E and other utilities will speak on this and other topics at Greentech Media's The Networked Grid conference in San Francisco on Nov. 4.)
SDG&E has about 6,600 customers with solar rooftops, he said. While that's growing by about 60 customers a month, it still only represents about 50 megawatts of generation, or about 1 percent of the utility's 5,000-megawatt total load. The utility can't monitor or control it, but there isn't enough of it to matter that much, he said — yet (see Having Solar Energy System Trouble? Don't Call Your Utilities).
But what happens when 20 percent or more of the homes in a neighborhood go solar and a cloud passes overhead? That changes a neighborhood of solar power producers to utility power customers in a matter of minutes – and grids built to deliver power one way at constant voltages and frequencies have trouble accommodating that two-way, intermittent flow.
Too much solar power, and local grid voltage could rise, causing potential problems for motors, lights and other equipment. Too little, and voltage can sag. That may only flicker light bulbs at home, but it can lead to million-dollar work stoppages for customers like semiconductor manufacturers and server farms that need clean power at a near-to-constant voltage and frequency.
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