What Is the Duck Curve in Solar Energy Production?
If you haven’t heard of this term, you may be wondering what ducks have to do with solar energy. However, the word has nothing to do with actual ducks, but rather with the look of the curve on the graph which shows supply and demand of electricity.
If you are thinking about installing solar panels on your house, you will need to consult solar energy experts such as https://actionsolar.net/ to help you determine how useful it may be for your home. However, before you do that, consider how electrical grids work.
The electricity comes to your home via power cables, whether overhead or underground. These cables are ultimately connected to a power plant. These power plants use different fuel sources depending on the region you live in. The most common sources of electricity are coal plants, hydro plants, and nuclear power plants.
In the recent years, some regions of the USA, like California have been investing heavily in power generation from renewable sources, like solar and wind, but these are still in their infancy. The electricity produced by the power plants is not preserved anywhere. Instead, it needs to be used as it is produced. That’s why power grid managers need to predict the demand to know how much electricity to generate.
The models used to predict this demand used to be very simple. The electricity demand is typically deficient during the night, seeing how most people are asleep and only a few businesses work all night, too. However, early in the morning, the energy demand grows significantly, as everybody wakes up and starts their day.
The demand drops somewhat during the day, seeing how most people are either at work or school and homes are mainly not used. Towards the end of the day, the demand for electricity surges and reaches its peak in the early evening only to drop off sharply as night approaches, and everybody goes to sleep.
These patterns tend to be permanent, year in and year out, which makes it easy to predict the demand for electricity. Or it did until solar energy became a relevant factor.
How Is Solar Energy Changing Everything?
Solar energy panels produce the most significant amount of electricity during the day, with the peak around the noon and dropping off sharply when the sun sets because the panels rely on the sun to produce electricity. It means that solar panels meet some of the electricity needs for a part of the day.
However, as independent solar panels are covering some of the need during the day, the model used by the electrical companies becomes inaccurate. The demand on the electrical grid seems to show a large dip during the day, which doesn’t reflect the real demand but is affected by the influx of electricity from solar panels. This dip makes the graph resemble an outline of a duck, which is where the whole phenomenon got its name.
What’s the Problem?
Your first thought might be ‘great, less coal will be burned to create electricity, that’s good for the environment’, which is all true, but the current state of electricity production technology has some drawbacks as well.
The coal and nuclear power plants, which produce the lion’s share of our electricity are not very efficient and only make sense economically if they work around the clock, which means that a lot of power is being wasted. Seeing how there is no way to store the electricity, something needs to be turned off, and more often than not, solar panels are more accessible to shut down without consequences.
Another problem with electricity generation from solar panels is that it stops at the very time when the demand for electricity skyrockets, towards the evening. That means that conventional energy power plants need to pick up the difference, and they take some time to become entirely powered.
Solving the Overproduction Problem
The current solution to the problem of hyperproduction of electricity during the day is curtailment, i.e., shutting down the solar panels. However, that is not the way forwards, as fossil fuels are expected to run out shortly.
A much better option which is being researched at the moment is energy storage – giant batteries which will be able to store the energy until it is needed so that the excess solar energy can be utilized when it is needed the most.
Installing personal solar panels has only a slight impact on the overall situation of energy production in the USA, but it can have a significant impact on your electricity bill and the value of your home. If you feel like you are ready for this step, consult Action Solar for further information and installation.