For an industry with as much momentum as solar, it’s still a healthy reminder that only 1 percent of America’s electricity supply comes from the sun.
Right now, solar is mostly a peak generation provider. For it to get where it needs to go, it needs to move into baseload territory — namely, the space dominated by fossil fuels.
To achieve that end, the solar industry and other renewables have to lay the groundwork for a new energy economy focused on smart solutions to some current limitations. That was the view presented by Andrew Skumanich, CEO of Solar Vision, during his presentation Monday morning at the opening day of the Intersolar conference in San Francisco, which runs through Thursday.
Here’s what Skumanich laid out as some of the key considerations if the U.S. and other emerging markets are really to achieve their solar potential.
First, appreciate the challenge. Utilities have always had to manage intermittency on the demand side, but now they have to manage it on the supply side as well. This creates an extraordinarily complex configuration. Right now, utilities are concerned about dependability at about 20 to 30 percent integration.
We must deploy available solutions. These include smart meters with time-of-day pricing, co-generation with PV-natural gas partnerships and forecasting that happens by the week, day and hour.
Energy storage goes way beyond batteries. It’s still costly and still at the research and development level. This remains true even with Concentrated Solar Power, which has a promising built-in option for storage. The reserves that would be needed for sources like solar and wind are very high, so to achieve this, you may need to overbuild developments, which would also increase costs.
Know where your resources are. When considering the transmission challenges, the biggest factor is that demand and supply usually don’t overlap. In the U.S., the population centers are often far away from the most ideal locations for solar and wind energy developments. There has also been a rather low investment in transmission lines compared with the rise of renewable energy over the past decade.
Tackling and solving these issues are what will give the solar industry the ability to expand and achieve a double-digit percentage of the electricity market in the U.S.
“For solar to take off, it needs a smart grid,” said Skumanich. “Some of this is happening, but we need an urgency for it.”