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Solar power grid problems. What Is Solar Power?

Solar power grid problems. What Is Solar Power?

    The Current Problem with Solar Power

    The Sun is Earth’s greatest power source. The amount of solar energy that hits the Earth’s surface in just two hours is enough to meet the current energy demand of the whole world for an entire year. Sunlight is a free and abundant natural resource that allows us to produce energy in an environmentally safe and sustainable manner. While we have become adept at harnessing the Sun’s rays and converting them into usable energy, the current problem is that the Sun does not always shine. A critical task for solar energy is finding adequate ways to store it for future use.

    Solar energy refers to the radiant energy and heat emitted by the Sun. Solar power generation is the conversion of solar energy into a usable form of power. Solar power is considered a clean, sustainable power source because it relies on harvesting energy from naturally occurring sunlight through an emissionless process. In addition, it is considered a renewable energy source since sunlight is abundantly available and producing solar energy does not deplete natural resources.

    Solar energy is captured through the use of photovoltaic (PV) panels. The photons of light from the Sun excite silicon cells in the panels and produce electricity through the photovoltaic effect. Electricity produced through the photovoltaic effect is a direct current (DC), so a solar inverter is required to convert the DC electricity to alternating current (AC) electricity. This electricity is available for immediate use by homes and businesses or to supply the power grid. Ideally, these panels are positioned in an area that maximizes sunlight such as an open area without shade or on the rooftop of the building. Shade of any kind presents a significant problem and results in a corresponding decrease in energy production. Some solar panels tilt to face the sun so they can collect more energy. Tilting of the panels is achieved and controlled with a solar tracking system.

    Solar energy is attractive to home and business owners for a variety of financial and environmental reasons. The cost savings that are possible in monthly utility bills are substantial and over time the costly systems will pay for themselves. The development of clean, green energy sources promotes job growth and mitigates pollution from increased energy production. Investing in solar energy today also prevents utility companies from having to expand expensive fossil fuel plants to meet future energy demands.

    How Is Solar Energy Currently Stored?

    As solar energy is harnessed it is either used immediately as electricity or stored for later use. One of the problems with solar energy is that these current methods of storage are inadequate for future needs. According to Michael Aziz, a professor of energy technologies at Harvard University, storing massive amounts of electrical energy during the optimal periods is the “single biggest obstacle to getting a large fraction of our electricity from solar power.” Scientists will need to expand on these ideas or develop new storage capabilities in order to expand the percentage of global electricity that is produced from solar energy.

    Current storage methods rely on batteries, thermal storage, pumped-storage hydroelectricity, compressed air, flywheels and the production of fuels for later use:

    • Batteries: During the day, as solar panels produce excess electricity, this energy is used to charge batteries that store the energy for later use. Large lithium ion batteries are often used. Engineers are working on a new technology that would store solar power using inexpensive, organic fuels.
    • Supercapacitors: These structures store large amounts of electricity in an electric field.
    • Molten Salt: The thermal energy produced from sunlight is stored in an ionic compound like that of molten sodium chloride. Later, when electricity is called for, heat from the molten salt is transferred to water to produce steam and drive a more traditional turbine.
    • Pumped-Storage Hydroelectricity: This method stores energy in the form of gravitational potential energy. When excess energy is being produced, that energy is used to pump water from the bottom of a hydroelectric dam to the top of the reservoir. In order to recapture the stored energy, water is released at the base of the dam to power a hydroelectric generator, which converts energy extracted from the moving fluid into electricity.
    • Compressed Air: These systems store excess energy as compressed air. When required, the compressed air is released, spinning a turbine-generator, producing electricity.
    • Flywheels: In some applications, excess energy is used to spin a flywheel, creating rotational energy. Energy is extracted from the system by reducing the flywheel’s speed.
    • Producing Fuel: Rather than convert solar energy to electricity immediately, this method relies on using the immediately available energy to produce a fuel for later energy consumption. For example, a petrochemical cell uses solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen atoms which are stored as fuels. The gasses are later recombined in a fuel cell that produces electricity.

    Disinformation is part of the fossil fuel industry’s playbook

    Bad-faith actors have falsely claimed that renewable energy sources are to blame for past blackouts and potential future grid failures.

    This disinformation is fueled largely by profit-driven private utilities, the fossil fuel industry, and their backers in politics and media. Even before the summer officially started, right-wing editorial boards and outlets began a campaign of deception foisting blame for predicted summer blackouts on “the green energy transition,” and these entities have continued pushing similar claims in response to blackouts in December 2022.

    This is part of a fossil fuel industry and utility playbook to avert attention from their own failings (and often skyrocketing earnings off disasters) while attempting to delay the transition to clean energy.

    Analysis from Friends of the Earth found that right-wing outlets and fossil fuel-funded interests have exploited social media to spread disinformation. This was true during the week-long blackouts in Texas following Winter Storm Uri in February 2021. While Gov. Greg Abbott and others falsely blamed “frozen wind turbines,” the blackouts were found to have resulted primarily from a failure of gas infrastructure and power plants that were not adequately weatherized. An analysis of rolling blackouts in California in 2020 determined poor planning by utilities combined with a climate change-induced extreme heat event pushed electricity demand to exceed supply.

    Meanwhile, fossil fuel companies have raked in obscene profits during the height of disasters. Even though the lights went out for a week in Texas during Winter Storm Uri, pipeline operators and gas companies saw an 11 billion windfall. An executive at gas driller Comstock Resources bragged of “hitting the jackpot” as a result of the disaster.

    Grid failures caused or exacerbated by fossil fuel resources

    Our electricity grid has historically relied on legacy generators like gas and coal power plants. These technologies are not immune to failure, as evidenced by numerous recent examples:

    • The Texas blackouts in February 2021, an event that killed 246 Texans and left more than 10 million people without power, resulted after plant outages far exceeded the local grid operator’s expectations. An estimated 45 gigawatts, more than half of Texas’s winter generating capacity, were offline due to the storm.
    • Extreme cold events caused major grid issues for eastern and southern states during the January 2014 polar vortex and for Texas and Southwestern states in February 2011.
    • A milder cold front in early January 2022 again caused gas production to buckle and knocked almost 12% of Texas’ power plant capacity offline (more than half from gas units).
    • As Winter Storm Elliott swept across the U.S. in December 2022, Southeast utilities including the Tennessee Valley Authority and Duke Energy were forced to implement widespread blackouts after numerous fossil fueled power plants failed in the freezing weather, while in the Mid-Atlantic, PJM interconnection narrowly averted disaster after a whooping 46 gigawatts of its generating fleet (70% of which were gas-fired units) were unavailable due to equipment failures and fuel supply problems.
    • The August 2020 blackouts in California, which forced more than 800,000 homes and businesses to endure rolling blackouts over the course of two days, were compounded by failures at two different gas plants.
    • Extreme heat affecting both air temperature and cooling water temperatures reduces the efficiency and available capacity of power plants. This was a contributing factor in the California blackouts which led to the derating of the state’s gas fleet. There are numerous examples of drought or elevated water temperatures forcing plants to shut down.
    • The failure of the Aliso Canyon gas storage field in October 2015 threatened the reliability of the Southern California grid. The event sickened or otherwise affected tens of thousands of local residents. exposed California’s overreliance on gas, and forced regulators to scramble to secure replacement resources.

    Renewable energy is keeping the lights on

    Despite spurious attempts by the fossil fuel industry and its allies to shift blame, integrating more renewable energy can boost grid resilience and wean America off fossil fuels. A 2021 Dartmouth T hayer School of Engineering study showed that incorporating renewable energy into the grid bolsters its resilience against extreme weather and heat waves. Clean resources are already delivering to help enhance reliability:

    • Supply on the California grid is already benefiting from the increasing contribution of new solar, battery storage, and successful demand response resources.
    • Following the 2020 blackouts, California’s energy agencies reaffirmed their commitment to meeting the state’s clean energy goals and in June 2021 the state’s energy regulators voted to add another 11.5 gigawatts of clean power and battery storage to the system to help respond to extreme weather. And thanks to the contribution of 3.5 gigawatts of storage resources that have been added just since mid-2020, the California grid successfully avoided outages through a record-setting heatwave in September 2022.
    • During the Texas blackouts in February 2021, solar was the only generation source to overperform its expected output.
    • In the wake of the Texas blackouts, investors doubled down on pouring money into clean energy projects — in total, wind, solar and battery-storage projects in the state are worth up to 25 billion. than 9 gigawatts of new generation, mostly solar and wind, were added to the Texas grid in 2022, while an additional 10 gigawatts of new solar, wind, and battery storage projects are planned for 2023. These new resources were already instrumental in preventing blackouts when an unusual early-May heatwave combined with the failure of six gas power plants almost pushed the grid into emergency conditions.
    • Worsening wildfires and heat waves in California have led to a boom in solar-and-storage from individuals. communities. and larger projects. Nationwide, the number of households with solar panels and battery storage was expected to double by the end of 2021, as homeowners seek to take control of their own power in the face of increasing threats of blackouts.
    • Following the failure of the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, California utilities were able to avoid dire blackout predictions by quickly embracing new renewable energy, energy storage, and demand response programs — and its success proved that battery storage technology could live up to high expectations.

    Disproportionate impacts

    Power outages during extreme weather events expose and amplify the existing inequities engrained in our electric grids:

    • During the Texas freeze in February 2021, low-income communities and communities of color suffered disproportionately and faced a longer road to recovery. Experts say Texas utilities prioritized keeping power on in areas near critical infrastructure such as hospitals and supermarkets, which tend to be located in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods.
    • In California, pre-emptive power shut-offs to prevent wildfires also disproportionately impact low-income and communities of color, and experts say that more data is needed to fully understand the impact on already vulnerable populations.
    • policies and programs are needed to protect vulnerable communities and residents that can’t afford power back-up.

    Our Ailing Power Grid Isn’t Cut Out for Climate Change

    We need to integrate terawatts of renewable energy. to mitigate the effects of climate change going forward for the next couple decades, one scientist says.

    On Aug. 14, 2003, a tree branch struck a power line in northern Ohio. Within minutes, 21 power plants shut down due to a series of errors. Fifty million people from Ohio and across the northeastern United States and Canada were affected. Around 100 people died.

    Some areas regained power within a few hours, while others waited days. In New York City, people fled subways in droves, walking across bridges to get home. Others waited hours in lines to buy batteries and other supplies. It was one of the largest blackouts in US history and cost the US 4 billion to 10 billion. It began to shed light on how broken the existing system is and how much change is needed.

    I think it’s amazing that the system’s not worse than it is, says Johanna Mathieu, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan. Most people don’t appreciate how hard it is to keep the lights on. Supply and demand must always be balanced, but increasing strain on the grid is creating new challenges.

    Blackouts are becoming more common, as the grid struggles to adjust to the shift to electric vehicles and the increase in the frequency and severity of storms amid climate change. Errors that result in debilitating outages, like the 2003 blackout, exacerbate growing energy demands.

    To counteract these pressures, a new generation of academics concerned about grid reliability are dreaming up solutions. The goal: to ensure reliable power now and into the future knowing the strains are only going to worsen. Renewables play a central role in these upgrades, particularly to help reduce the strain climate change puts on the grid.

    We need to integrate terawatts of renewable energy. If we do not do that, we will not be able to mitigate the change of the climate going forward for the next couple decades, says Mads Almassalkhi, associate professor in electrical engineering at the University of Vermont and chief scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, in a 2021 podcast episode. I think there are not many other problems more important over the next couple of decades.

    A system built in the 1800s

    Today’s US power grid is made up of 360,000 miles of transmission lines, enough to circle Earth’s equator more than 14 times. But that’s only part of the equation. The full power grid encompasses an intricate network of power plants and technological systems, along with those transmission lines.

    The electric grid is undergoing a transformation never before seen, Brandon Morris, strategic communications manager at Midcontinent Independent System Operator, says over email. MISO oversees the flow of electricity in 15 states mainly in the Midwest and South, and in the Canadian province of Manitoba. Coal, gas and other fossil fuel sources are being swapped out for solar and other renewables that may not have constant availability due to weather and related factors. At the same time, there’s a growing demand for electricity.

    If you think about how people consumed electricity in 1990, it is very different from how we consume it today, says Pandey. All of the electronic devices we use today put more strain on an already-old grid that just a few decades ago only had to keep up with refrigerators and other basic household appliances. Tech giants like Google, Meta and others consume a ton of electricity too, he adds.

    Climate change also has a serious effect on the grid. A 2022 report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation cautioned that the US could see an increase in blackouts due to severe weather. The report specifically called out MISO as particularly vulnerable because of reliability concerns associated with ongoing grid maintenance and increased energy demand.

    Drought and extreme heat in parts of the US could also exacerbate grid reliability, the report said.

    [Blackouts are] happening more and more, of course, not just because of mistakes and little issues, but because of natural disasters that are caused by climate change, explains Mathieu, the University of Michigan professor.

    All of these challenges are compounded by the grid itself, which is nearly 150 years old. It’s not even clear how to triage some of these issues, because the infrastructure is so old and the documentation and details of what’s connected to what isn’t sometimes accurate, Mathieu says. So you’re dealing with old stuff, broken stuff. It’s a messy, messy problem [trying to keep the lights on].

    Fixing the grid

    Researchers are exploring different approaches to address all of the challenges the US grid is facing, and ultimately keep the lights on. Pandey, the Carnegie Mellon professor, is primarily focused on creating computer models to identify different ways forward.

    Since the actual grid needs to be balanced at all times, you can’t test different scenarios in the real world. Computer models are the next best thing, Pandey says. I’ll run these different ‘what if?’ scenarios and make sure that the grid operates as expected or reliably and if not, then I’ll do some sort of decision making.

    But more experts are needed. Ten years ago, power system engineers could run the electric grid reliably. That’s no longer true, Pandey says. Now you need data scientists, applied mathematicians, power systems specialists and people who understand transportation because of the emergence of electric vehicles. You need a very collaborative environment, people from [all these supply chains] linked together to solve these problems.

    Mathieu is especially interested in distributed energy resources, or DERs, to tackle changing grid reliability. DERs are solutions that enable individual households to help address strain on the grid using Smart home devices.

    One project she’s working on focuses on residential air conditioners and Smart thermostats. To better balance power supply and demand, a third party could access Smart thermostats in homes and adjust when they cycle to maintain a certain temperature based on what’s happening with the grid. Mathieu says the desired temperature for each home would still be maintained, so individual comfort wouldn’t suffer.

    The challenge is getting Americans to trust an outside entity with access to their Nest or Ecobee thermostat. I personally think that if the utility companies were running these programs, most people would say no because they don’t have trust in their utility, says Mathieu. They’re more likely to trust a company, which is an interesting American paradigm.

    She also thinks building up enough renewable power so that there’s an overabundance would address the concerns about solar and other renewables being as readily available and reliable as fossil fuels, which are not dependent on weather conditions. It’s OK if we waste some solar power, Mathieu says. It’s not like it’s turning into any bad product by wasting it.- you’re just turning off the solar cell for a couple hours.

    Almassalkhi, the University of Vermont professor, likes the idea of a global grid. Solar energy might depend on the weather, but when it’s night somewhere, it’s daytime somewhere else. The sun shines at any given time on the planet, somewhere, he says in the podcast. If we could connect these time zones based on solar array stations, wind farms across the globe, we could supply the whole world at any given time.

    Whatever the solution, everyone agrees that we have to do something fast. While the US was spared major blackouts this summer, old technology and an increase in storms, drought and high temperatures is only going to continue, Mathieu says. The potential costs, as the country learned from the 2003 blackout, can be severe.

    The 2003 [blackout] is the one we teach in school, she adds. It’s the big one of like, ‘How did this get so bad and how can we fix this going forward?’

    How does Grid-tied Solar Power System Works

    How Solar Energy is Changing the Future of the Electrical Grid?

    By providing a safe, dependable, and sustainable source of electricity, solar energy is revolutionizing the way the electrical grid will operate in the future. Solar energy is quickly becoming an essential component of the electrical grid as it becomes more widely available and more economical. With the move towards solar energy, the way we produce, distribute, and use power is changing, leading to a more decentralized and adaptable grid.

    One of the primary benefits of solar energy is that it can be put on rooftops or other confined spaces, enabling utilities, households, and commercial establishments to produce their own electricity. Due to the decreased reliance on massive centralized power plants caused by distributed generation, the system is better equipped to withstand disturbances and outages.

    Additionally, the cost of solar energy is continuing to decline, making it more accessible to a wider range of individuals.

    The fact that solar energy aids in lowering carbon emissions, a significant factor in climate change, is another significant feature of the technology. We can considerably reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lessen the effects of climate change by substituting clean, renewable energy for fossil fuels.

    As solar energy usage increases, energy storage technology is being developed and innovated, making it possible to store excess solar energy for use at a later time. As a result, the grid may be managed with more flexibility, resulting in a more steady and dependable supply of power.

    The World Needs Supergrids, But There’s a Problem

    By fostering a more decentralized, robust, and sustainable system, solar energy is altering the future of the electrical grid. We may anticipate a day where energy is cleaner, more accessible, and more dependable as we continue to use solar power.

    solar, power, grid, problems

    The Integration of Solar Energy into the Electrical Grid

    As solar power continues to gain popularity as a clean and renewable energy source, the integration of solar energy into the electrical grid has been a major concern for the energy sector. Connecting solar power systems to the current electrical network is a necessary step in the integration of solar energy into the grid since it enables more widespread distribution and use of solar energy.

    The intermittency of solar power generation is one of the main obstacles to its integration into the grid. There can be variations in the quantity of energy generated by solar energy because it is dependent on the weather and time of day. Due to grid imbalances caused by this unpredictability, the grid may become unstable and have dependability problems.

    The industry has created a variety of solutions to overcome these issues and make it possible for solar energy to be successfully integrated into the grid. In order to ensure grid stability, these solutions also feature cutting-edge technology for frequency and voltage management. Energy storage devices can assist balance the supply and demand of power.

    In addition, several utilities are putting Smart grid technology to use to increase the system’s adaptability and resilience. These technologies can aid in real-time power supply and demand matching, making the grid integration of solar energy more effective and dependable.

    In general, a sustainable and dependable energy future depends on the integration of solar energy into the electrical grid. The energy sector can continue to increase the utilization of solar energy while upholding the stability and dependability of the power system by utilizing cutting-edge technology and creative ideas.


    Solar energy is crucial to the global shift to a cleaner, more sustainable future for energy. The spike in solar energy use, however, might pose problems for the stability and dependability of the grid. Therefore, cutting-edge technologies and creative solutions like energy storage, power electronics, demand response, frequency regulation, voltage regulation, and Smart grid technologies have been developed and put into practise to ensure that solar energy integration is efficient, effective, and reliable. The energy sector can continue to increase the usage of solar energy while maintaining a steady and dependable power grid for a sustainable and energy-secure future by addressing the issues and utilizing these solutions.

    Insights, Resources and Opportunities.

    solar, power, grid, problems

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