A story of solar ducks and camels

This is for anyone who rejects jargon

Admittedly, metaphors are better than jargon.

I sometimes follow reddit and one sub that I thoroughly enjoy is ELI5 — it means “explain it like I’m 5”. With that said, I am going to do the same thing with this post today.

The camel

Once upon a time, people needed predictable amounts of electricity at certain times in the day. You’d have weekend and seasonal changes but things would fall under a certain shape. This is where you’d spot the camel in the picture:

A drawing of what usually happens at different hours in the day

You wake up at its tail, you start powering some electrical appliances, you take a shower and you prepare for work. That’s the first hump. The second one comes when *everyone* gets either back home, open their laptops and their over-sized TVs, or they go in town and enjoy their free time down the block at Joe’s pub. Bear in mind that everything happens while it’s getting dark outside. So those LED lights really do make a difference.

The job for the electricity providers has always been to fire up or down their plants and to make money in the process. “Keeping the lights on” is another useful saying here. If it happens to have more electricity than needed, they end damaging the grid and potentially frying up your toaster in the process. In the opposite case, you get a blackout. Not fun. We’ll talk about who actually takes care of this another time.

The duck

What is different today is not that people changed their ways, it’s the fact that they started putting solar panels on their roofs. Also, a few energy companies built solar farms and/or wind farms at a larger size to prepare for the change. So in the last few years, the picture started looking more and more fragmented, more local. It also started to look like a mess in the minds of experts.

Case in point, when your rooftop solar panels make electricity, the panels either make less electricity than you need (in this case you buy the rest from the grid) or they make more electricity than you need (the excess of it gets back into the grid). Here, depending on the country, you can get paid for that amount that you put back in.

The duck is real and it’s coming after utilities’ stable business

The camel has left, all hail the duck!

Apart from the fact that the energy sector gets squeezed from every possible direction (tech sector included), it’s good to know what can happen in the future, based on what is happening in 2017 in sunny states and countries.

The biggest danger with the duck is that on sunny days, there is quite a lot of electricity made in the middle of the day. Since we can’t store (yet) that electricity, we have to put it back into the big grid.

Careful with that duck, Eugene

The state of California is a textbook case study of what will happen if we keep putting solar panels and we don’t also back them up with enough batteries. Storage is the most important element that we can think if we also want to keep using electricity from solar without risking the whole farm.

Source: GreenTechMedia

It’s simple, either we store the electricity or we’ll break the duck’s neck. The grid cannot make up for the bigger and bigger swings of the day/night cycles and more precisely, the late afternoon — early dusk case.

But I’m not living in California and I don’t use solar — why should I care?

The duck that you see above can change into any other shape that is not a straight line. And anything that is not a straight, smooth line is really tricky to deal with when you don’t have many options.

Remember, any electricity that is generated has to be used instantly. That is the legacy of how we did things since we started having sockets and plugs.

Source: Bloomberg

It can also happen with wind if there are a lot of wind farms in use — yes, I am looking at you UK. And lastly, solar seems to be show a better future as it gets cheaper faster than wind. Markets will tell.

We’ll talk more on solar and batteries in another post.

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It would mean a lot to me if you can share it with people that are interested in this topic. Also, let’s talk in the comments section. Thank you! 💨☀️⚡️