Solar power is causing damage to California’s electrical grid and could lead to blackouts this summer, but the state’s plan to solve the problem is vehemently opposed by The Sierra Club.
The state was forced to shut down its solar farms on March 27 because they were producing more electricity than Californians needed. Grid operators say this damaged the power grid, and the system will be incredibly vulnerable to damage and blackouts this summer because of excess solar power.
The operator’s proposed solution is to merge its power grid with PacifiCorp, Oregon’s electrical utility, which has access to many more reliable coal power plans that could offset the unreliability of California’s solar systems.
Environmental groups such as The Sierra Club are furious about the solution and sent a letter to California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in February demanding California suffer blackouts rather than merge grids with a company that uses coal power.
“It’s constantly solving a constant problem, meaning you’re always trying to balance,” Nancy Traweek, who directs system operations for California’s electrical grid, told KQED Science Monday. “All of a sudden you have a major cloud that comes over a solar field. That [power] needs to come from somewhere else immediately. When it gets really bad, now we really got to start cutting as much as we possibly can. If that’s not done, then you could have a blackout.”
Since the output of solar and wind plants cannot be predicted with high accuracy by forecasts, grid operators have to keep excess reserves running just in case. This also places extra stress on the grid, which could even lead to brownouts or blackouts, similar to those that struck the state in 2000 and 2001.
The country has already dialed down coal power plants and solar farms to their minimum load requirements in an attempt to advert disaster, but there has already been damage to the grid and, subsequently, power interruption
In order for the any power grid to function, demand for energy must exactly match supply. Solar power runs the risk of providing either too much energy or not enough, as it cannot easily adjust output. Adding green power, which only provides power at intermittent and unpredictable times, makes the power grid more fragile, especially in developing countries. Power demand is relatively predictable, and conventional power plans, like nuclear plants and natural gas, can adjust output accordingly as they put out a steady and predictable supply of electricity.
Additionally, California’s highest demand for electricity also happens right as the sun goes down, when people come home from work and turn lights on, which means grid operators must switch out the solar power for conventional coal, natural gas or nuclear power plants. Solar power in California simply does not generate electricity at times when it is most needed.
“If you continue going down this route, you’re going to have significant challenges in managing disturbances,” John Moura, director of reliability assessment at the North American Electric Reliability Corp, told EnergyWire late last month.
The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is currently investigating how green energy undermines the reliability of the electrical grid. FERC believe there is a “significant risk” of electricity in the United States becoming unreliable because “wind and solar don’t offer the services the shuttered coal plants provided.” Environmental regulations could make operating coal or natural gas power plant unprofitable, which could compromise the reliability of the American power grid.
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