Is there such a thing as too much solar power? - Posted by Adrian Hawke
Over the last 5 years I have noticed that the Government/Political support for solar power or alternative energy sources has been progressively rolled back.
Whether it is support for remote power systems - the kind that reduces or eliminates the reliance on diesel fueled power stations & homesteads, or Fringe of Grid - areas that are at the ends of the transmission lines, or plain old Grid Connect systems in Metro areas, every program or incentive has been tampered with or cut.
The Feed In Tariffs are the most noticeable, as they affect the most number of the general public. The remote power/fringe of grid schemes are less known, but have been slashed just the same.
Does this make sense, or have any consistency when compared to what the Government wants us to believe regarding the "cost" of Climate Change, and the new "Taxes" we must endure to save the planet?
For some time now I hear that power generation & networking companies have introduced a maximum desirable penetration of solar/renewbles into their system. About 20% is a number I have heard.
Is there something feasibly wrong with people/places generating their own energy, or is it more a $financial$ concern?
Being interested in electricity generation from a very early age, and first involved commercially in power generation in 1994, the change in attitude by our retailers, networkers, generators & politicians has prompted me to conduct my own research into the matter.
Put simply - there are countries that have more solar penetration per-capita than Australia, but less sunshine. Germany is a country that springs to mind, but who has the most?
Have a read of this article in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:
Sun screening - "As solar power hits a threshold, a study is required to add more panels"
By Alan Yonan Jr.
In Alan's article, the threshold is shown to be 15% (up from 10%). Any new proposed system in an area that is already at the limit must have an expensive study conducted to determine whether the system will affect the quality of supply to the other account holders.
I don't know about you, but to me this looks like a thinly disguised financial deterrent imposed by the power companies under the guise of "quality control".
This 15% barrier, and deterrent is confirmed Via "Solar-Hawaii.org":
"Hawaii solar growth facing potential barrier"
Compare this to an article by Bryan Nisperos about Gainesville in the U.S South West:
Gainesville has high PV penetration thanks to FiT
A town where the power company realizes that promoting de-centralized solar power is actually more cost affective than installing their own solar power station.
In an investigation into the performance & value of solar power, I revisited my first (1990's) hybrid solar power installation at the Broome Bird Observatory while on a business trip through the North West of WA.
The original system has had the inverter & diesel generator upgraded, plus additional panels installed, but the 3x original solar tracking arrays are still going strong after 15+ years (5,500+ days) of uninterrupted service.
A subsequent trip to the East Coast included the opportunity to visit the country with the world's highest penetration of solar power per-capita - Norfolk Island.
Norfolk Island has a colorful history, which is another story, but what attracted me to the island was the intrigue as to how they manage a penetration that I have been advised is 40% higher than any other country in the world.
A few facts:
Diesel, plus EVERY other commodity on the island must be shipped in & offloaded by small tenders, as N.I. has no deep-water port. Diesel/petrol costs $2.35+/L at the pump.
Electricity costs consumers 69c/Unit, and is set to rise!
The installation of grid connected solar power throughout the island has resulted in a reduction of diesel consumption at the power station of greater than 85%!
A consumption that once was 7000+ liters/day, is now only 1000 liters/day.
In the 1990's I worked with a company servicing remote power stations. A common Genset was the 1MW Cummins unit, or the 1MW CAT unit. Norfolk Island has 3x Cummins and 3x CAT Gensets, plus an auxiliary 350kW unit for the airport & hospital.
(The Cummins units were purchased from an affiliate company at the same time I was working on them in the West Aust desert, in 1995.)
Now that Norfolk Island has solar power, instead of a typical midday base load of 1.3MW, the power station is running at 250-350kW. This requires only 1x Genset to be running, instead of 3, reducing running costs such as maintenance, repairs, fuelling, servicing, breakdowns etc etc.
Not that adding solar power didn't have some teething problems - for the first time in memorable history, residents had up to 5x power blackouts on one day, the first time the installed PV output matched the Island's load - that is, the power station shut down due to reverse-power protection!
The Norfolk Island Power Station solution? Make a phone call & turn off one of the larger PV systems when output at the power house drops too low! Trust the Norfolk Islanders to come up with such a simple solution.
Now - Norfolk Island has about 1.4MW of solar power installed, and a daytime base load of around 1.3MW. Clouds surprisingly don't seem to affect their power station or quality of supply in the way that other power/network/retail companies would lead us to believe it will, despite Norfolk Island only being around 5km long & 3km wide.
Norfolk Island have a simple NET metering system using mechanical meters, so what you export during the day - you can pull back in at night, and have a NET result of ZERO.
When I asked the power station operator & local electrician what they were going to do with their excess solar power, they said they would probably allow the installation of Air-Con's on the island!
There is no 15-20% solar power penetration limit on Norfolk Island - in fact they are probably heading towards 110% now.
What does this say about the rest of the world's penetration limits?
What does this say about quality of supply on a power network?
Could it in fact really be just a question of maintaining $profit$?
What then does this say about the urgent & necessary steps (see tax & rising utility costs) we must endure to fight "climate change" here in Australia, and the rest of the world?
What are our politicians really doing, if their actions (see closing funding for renewables etc) don't seem to follow their own rhetoric?
Come to think about it - contrary to popular belief, how "safe" is Nuclear Power... really?