Solar Nerd articles about: Electric Grid

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Photo of a large solar panel installation
How many solar panels would be needed to power the USA?
From the start, let’s make it clear that there are no serious proposals to power the planet using only solar energy. The renewable energy technologies available today - solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, hydro, along with energy storage - are complementary. Each technology has strengths and weaknesses, but when we use all them in concert, it’s possible to power the entire planet with clean energy. Even so, it’s an interesting thought to consider how many solar panels we would need if that was the only power source available.
Photo illustation of the duck curve
What is the duck curve?
Here’s a super quick crash course on the electric grid: When you plug in a kettle or turn on your air conditioner, you add a little bit of load to the electric grid. This causes the voltage on the grid to drop by a tiny amount. If enough people do that at the same time, the operators of the grid respond by asking power plants to generate more power. This also works the other way: if power plants are cranking out more electricity than customers are using, power plants are asked to dial their power output down, or even shut off completely.
Historical atmospheric CO2 levels. Data source: Reconstruction from ice cores. Credit: NOAA
Do home solar panels really help fight climate change?
97% of scientists believe that the Earth’s climate is changing and that humans are the reason. This isn’t new. The fact that carbon dioxide traps heat isn’t in scientific dispute, and the idea that humans burning massive amounts of fossil fuels could affect the climate has been around since at least 1912: Climate change story in a New Zealand newspaper. August 14, 1912. The scientific consensus is equally clear when it comes to renewable energy, including solar.
Photo of an electricity transmission tower.
Is net metering unfair to non-solar homeowners?
Net metering is an important policy that gives solar homeowners full credit for any solar electricity they send into the grid. But many utilities want to end the policy, claiming that it’s an unfair subsidy that raises the cost of electricity for non-solar homes. More than that, electric utilities claim that solar net metering is a subsidy for relatively rich homeowners who can afford to go solar at the expense of lower income people who can’t afford to put solar panels on their house, or don’t have that option because they’re renters.
Photo of a transmission tower.
How do solar panels connect to the grid?
One of the fundamental concepts of home solar is grid interconnection - otherwise known as connecting to the grid. What does this mean? First, let’s define exactly what “grid” means. When talking about home solar, the grid refers to the power grid, also known as the electric grid. It is the collection of machinery and wires that generates electricity and brings it to your home. There are two parts to the grid: generation, which consists of a variety of power plants such as coal plants, gas turbines, nuclear power plants, wind turbines, hydroelectric dams, and solar panels.