A common myth about the challenges of integrating renewable power into the grid is that because solar and wind are intermittent, grid operators need to maintain full generation capacity from “baseload” plants powered by coal and nuclear.
Recent data and research shows that not only is this not true, but that baseload capacity is fundamentally incompatible with renewables, and that as renewables provide a greater portion of the grid’s power, baseload generation will need to be phased out.
Benefits of Solar Instead of Baseload Generators
Solar only produces when the sun is shining and when power consumption is at its peak. Currently, peak-power generation is being handled by power plants that have the ability to turn on quickly, and run for short demand periods.
These so-called “peaker” generators are called into service when electricity demand is high, and tend to be less efficient than combined cycle power plants, along with being more expensive. In fact, building them requires a sizable premium above the average grid cost of energy due to startup costs and repayment of capital.
Utility-scale solar power can reduce the need for peakers by producing electricity at or near grid-parity at times when peakers are needed, such as when demand surges due to commercial and residential air-conditioning usage on hot, sunny days.
Environment and The Future of Energy
Solar generates clean and sustainable energy without toxic pollution or global warming emissions. This means reduction in both carbon footprint and water usage.
In contrast, coal as a primary generating source produces significant pollution is one of the world’s biggest sources of carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, in the USA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and much of the American public are opposed to new coal generation.
Renewable energy sources represent the future. Many people advocate that the US should regain its position as an energy-independent nation.
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), there are approximately 2,276 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas in the US. In 2013, the rate of consumption was 27 Tcf per year, which means that the US has just over 84 years of supply. As coal plants begin closing and are replaced with natural gas, consumption rate will increase and the projected supply duration will drop.
With solar costs on the decline, this clean energy source can generate cost-effective peak generation energy. This is important given that, according to EIA figures, in 2010 the electricity generation was 4,130 billion kWh gross, with annual electricity demand projected to increase to 4,690 billion kWh by 2030.
The investment in solar technology is paying off. As the rewards accrue, and as solar becomes a vital part of a region’s infrastructure, this renewable energy source will support natural gas by lowering the amount the country burns each year, while extending the supply of an important non-renewable resource.