Tag Archives: Technology

A Huge Solar Plant Caught on Fire, and That’s the Least of Its Problems

By Sarah Zhang, WIRED

Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar plant, is a glittering sea of mirrors, concentrating sunlight into three glowing towers. It is a futuristic vision rising out of the Mojave desert. But from the day the plant opened for business in 2014, critics have said the technology at Ivanpah is outdated and too finicky to maintain.

The latest problem? A fire at one of the plant’s three towers on Thursday, which left metal pipes scorched and melted. As the plant dealt with engineering hiccups, Ivanpah initially struggled to fulfill its electricity contract, and it would have had to shut down if the California Public Utilities Commission didn’t throw it a bone this past March. “Ivanpah has been such a mess,” says Adam Schultz, program manager at the UC Davis Energy Institute and former analyst for the CPUC. “If [the fire] knocks them offline, it’s going to further dig them in.” On top of the technical challenges, the plant has had to deal with PR headaches like reports of scorched birds and blinded pilots from its mirrors.

Ivanpah’s biggest problem, though, is hard economics. When the plant was just a proposal in 2007, the cost of electricity made using Ivanpah’s concentrated solar power was roughly the same as that from photovoltaic solar panels. Since then, the cost of electricity from photovoltaic solar panels has plummeted to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (compared to 15 to 20 cents for concentrated solar power) as materials have gotten cheaper. “You’re not going to see the same thing with concentrated solar power plants because it’s mostly just a big steel and glass project,” says Schultz. It can only get so much cheaper.

Read full article at WIRED

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California Has Too Much Solar Power — And That’s a Good Thing

By Travis Hoium, The Motley Fool

No business wants to create a solution in search of a problem, particularly in the slow-changing energy industry. Instead, businesses want to find solutions for problems that exist and create ways to make money off their solutions.

Enter the exigent problem California is facing: it has too much solar energy. First, who thought that would be a problem in the country’s largest state? Second, why isn’t there a solution if utilities and regulators knew this problem was coming? The short answer is that energy innovators weren’t going to create and install solutions for solar energy’s variability until they knew the utilities and regulators had recognized the problem.

California has made a big push into renewable energy in an effort to meet a 50% renewable energy goal by 2030. It’s built wind and solar plants rapidly over the past decade, which combines with hydropower to provide clean energy to the state. The problem is that solar energy, in particular, isn’t created evenly throughout the day or year and that’s a challenge for the grid.

In March, before peak air conditioner season in the state, there was so much solar energy on the grid that the California Independent System Operator had to tell some solar farms to shut down because there was too much energy for the grid to handle. And that could lead to a blackout.

Read full article from The Motley Fool

Too Much Solar in California? Not If You Bottle It

By Lauren Sommer, KQED

The cost of solar power has plummeted in recent years, which has led to a renewable energy boom in California.

But there’s a big hang-up: solar energy doesn’t provide a 24-hour supply. When the sun sets, the power from solar farms drops off, just as California needs it most. That’s sparked new interest in technology that stores electricity. And the energy storage technology race is going far beyond your typical battery.

Solar Peaking

“Pretty much everyday, we hit peak output,” says Michael Wheeler, a vice president at Recurrent Energy in San Francisco, looking at a screen showing the solar farms his company manages. But earlier this spring, something happened that, at first, doesn’t seem to make sense.

It was the middle of the day, when one of the solar farms was cranking out electricity, and his company got a message. There was too much electricity on the grid. The electric grid managers were telling solar farms to shut down. “The project went from almost peak output to zero for about two hours,” he says.

This happens on sunny, spring days when there is plenty of solar power but Californians aren’t using a lot of air conditioning yet, so demand for power is low. The solar and wind power comes in on top of what natural gas power plants are generating. Because renewable energy production goes up and down with passing clouds and wind conditions, grid operators say they need the continuous supply from natural gas to make up for those fluctuations.

Shutting down natural gas would leave the power supply less stable. Many gas plants can take between four and eight hours to restart, once they’re turned off. As more solar farms come online, the pressure to shut them down on mild, sunny days is only expected to become greater. California plans to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Read full article from KQED

Related article: What will California do with too much solar? (KQED) – April 4, 2016

From theory to practice: The challenges in moving to ‘Utility 2.0’

By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive

For all the theorizing about what the utility of the future will look like, real world examples of how to adapt current power sector business models to the new world of renewables and distributed resources can seem few and far between.

While utilities often trumpet their new smart grid technologies, microgrid projects and storage pilots, actually working out how to make those solutions scalable and profitable can be a lot harder than it looks from the outside.

But utilities across the nation can learn from each other’s experiences, with the aim that the questionable technologies of the day can become the ubiquitous tools of tomorrow.

That was the goal of the emerging technologies panel at the recently-concluded Energy Storage North America 2015 conference in San Diego. There, representatives from four major utilities—PG&E, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), Southern California Edison, and Consolidated Edison—highlighted the challenges and successes of a diverse set of DER pilots, hoping their struggles could translate into easier adoption of distributed resources and demand side resources at other companies…

Read full article from Utility Dive