Solar Power in California - Is Fast Growth Creating Waste?

Many years ago, I was in the process of completing my masters degree in International Business and I chose to focus on renewable energy capabilities in developing countries.

The U.S. trailed behind several other countries (mainly Germany and Japan) in the roll out of solar power to both commercial and residential properties.

As of recent years, the landscape for solar power in the U.S. has changed a bit, especially in the state of California.

There are a number of reasons for the rise, including lower cost of materials and progressive statewide initiatives such as the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

It’s not all smooth sailing on the solar front. Recent reports have found that much of energy produced by businesses, residential, government, and industrial solar power plants has gone to waste.

In 2016, over 300k megawatt hours from both wind and solar was lost because of the inability to store the energy during peak times of use. This is a complex issue that requires some thinking outside the box.

The most output from solar systems occurs in the late morning to early in the afternoon. Depending on the season, such as during the spring, you do have longer sun days but less people are drawing that energy to run A/C units.

If you look at a graph of the grid system in California, you’ll see year of year increase in reliance of solar power. So if changes aren’t made soon, more waste will likely occur into the future.

Possible Solutions

  • Selling excess energy to neighboring states like Nevada and Arizona. This would likely be a major win for these states as California sells off excess energy very cheap. The difference in daylight timing could be beneficial, but at the moment, trading only happens on an hour by hour basis.
  • Storage Systems that could hold the energy for use later during peak hours. Residential systems have advanced thanks to technology developed by Tesla. The latest product called the PowerWall 2 has some impressive features.
Tesla’s PowerWall2 — The Future of Storing Energy — 14 kWh Capacity

The PowerWall 2 is a light-weight backup battery system that is compact and can be placed either inside or outside the home. The approximate cost of each unit is $7k but figure 3 of these can provide backup power to a 4 bedroom home for 24 hours. In combination with solar panels you can be completely off the grid.