While adopting renewable energy models improves our environment and reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, it’s not a perfect solution. Often, when many solar farms or wind farms or other forms of renewable energy penetrate a given market, that market ends up with more energy than it can handle. This means that the price value of that particular form of renewable energy, whether it’s solar, hydro, or wind, will decrease. For example, California enacted a power curtailment in 2017 to avoid negative power pricing. This negative pricing was caused by a large rise in the use of hydro and solar power around the state, which left utility companies with excess power. Around that time, they also had to stop their power trade with the Pacific Northwest, which faced a hydro power surplus after they had an exceptionally wet winter. As solar power penetrated California’s energy market, the state had to figure out what to do about all the excess power.
What does that have to do with New England? While we don’t have as much solar power as California yet, we do currently have about 3,400 watts of solar power installed across our region, and this already affects power consumption. For instance, New England’s electric grid has experienced the “duck curve” phenomenon many times since April 2018. The duck curve occurs when consumption from the electric grid drops dramatically in the middle of the day. That kind of sharp energy consumption drop-off usually occurs in the middle of the day, but it often happens at midday on sunny days when homes and businesses use their solar arrays to generate electric power. While this isn’t causing major problems at the moment, New England isn’t extremely sunny all year long. We need to develop renewable energy solutions that power homes and businesses during other weather conditions.