When faced with an important choice, how often do you really have only two distinct, opposite options? While Henry Ford may have famously said you could buy one of his cars in any color you choose so long as it’s black, you have more colors to choose from. Why do we so often believe the lie that life is binary?
Here is an example: Growth of individually produced solar power is an issue many believe is “either/or.” On one hand, solar proponents overhype the individual and collective benefits of generating energy from the sun. Critics correctly argue that relying upon energy generated by the sun is impossible for the 12 hours of each day the sun doesn’t shine. Pro-solar advocates claim any opposition is motivated by greed of power companies worried about selling less of their product; the opposite side claims the primary motivation is the money made by solar panel manufacturers and installers. So, is solar power good or bad? The answer is, most assuredly, “Yes.”
To be clear, I’m a fan of solar power. I proudly own two panels in my co-op’s community solar installation. But integrating huge amounts of solar energy into the grid is creating some difficult problems.
The chart on this page is referred to as the “Duck Curve” because of its shape. What it shows is the total amount of power delivered by the power grid across an entire state during one specific 24-hour period over eight years. Each year, the need for power from the grid decreases during the middle of the day because more and more solar installations are producing the most energy when the sun is at its highest. That’s good, right?
The problem is the steep increase in power delivered by the grid at the end of the day (the duck’s “neck”) as the sun lowers in the sky. Since the panels can’t meet the demand for power, traditional power plants have to be able to turn themselves on and off and ramp up production quickly. Many types of plants simply can’t turn on and off quickly, and those that can will be more expensive because of lowered utilization of their capacity. That’s bad, right?
For a great four-minute video explanation, go to www.vox.com and search for “Duck Curve.” In next month’s column, I’ll describe why the duck curve is causing some solar power to be wasted and how the problem can be fixed.