Renewable energy sources are critical for every nation around the world. For the environment and for public health, these resources have the potential to outperform and exceed the competition – fossil fuels. Outperforming, though, is only half the battle. With solar power growth and new wind power integrations, grid optimization has become a necessity.
The grid is what distributes the power generated by renewables. Whether it’s day-to-day operations in a business or home, solar and wind are there for it all. However, in instances of high demand or high power generation, grids may not be able to keep up with distribution needs. The time is now to focus on solutions.
Expanding renewable energy sources
Renewables are necessary. They have the power, on a global level, to drastically reduce pollution levels and weaken the effects of the climate crisis. Due to this effectiveness, countries around the globe are expanding renewable energy integrations.
Wind and solar are leading the renewable charge. In the United States, California is aiming to be 60% renewable by 2030 and fully renewable by 2045. This requires helping residents and businesses understand the benefits and make the transition. Throughout this process, people will need powerful energy grids.
Fossil fuels don’t have the heavy electrical distribution demand that renewables do. Oil and gas can power homes directly. Of course, they do have power plants and reactors that can malfunction and cause outages. However, renewables must run on grids. During times of overwhelming demand, this can introduce difficulties.
In states like California, with about 40 million people, overwhelming the grid is an ongoing concern. You can also apply that concept on a nationwide level. Australia, for instance, is a leader in solar power growth that needs to find a better way to improve grid functions. From there, renewables can become more widespread, with countries and residents adapting them at faster rates.
Solar failing Australian residents
Before renewables can become the norm, experts must figure out ways to make them reliable. Residents won’t want to invest in photovoltaic (PV) panels if it doesn’t provide them with consistent power, no matter how inexpensive solar energy becomes. Southern Australia is a key example of how solar power can go wrong.
As solar power increases, pollution can decrease. However, grid optimization must accompany it or else renewables become unreliable. Southern Australia residents are now seeing this fluctuation as the demand overwhelms the grids.
As a leader in solar power growth, this region of Australia is home to 270,000 solar panel users, which adds up to 1.5 gigawatts of power across the board. This kind of demand is a step in the right direction for benefiting the environment and public health. However, this power is almost too much. With the sun constantly on the panels, energy generation skyrockets.
The SA Power Networks company will soon have the ability to turn off residents’ rooftop solar systems when power generation and demand levels are unequal. Shutdowns like these can cut the power for some residents without the right preparation. With Southern Australia’s goal of reaching 100% renewability by 2030, this relationship could continue — without the right grid optimization, that is.
The grid is the key to proper renewable energy expansion. Experts must focus on balancing supply and demand levels during this increase.
Improving the grid through optimization
Improving energy grids around the world isn’t something that can happen overnight. It will take planning, tools and reforms to properly address the needs of the residents and businesses that use renewables like rooftop solar. The aim is stability.
Two key ways to achieve stability is through smart grids and microgrids. Often, the two go together — but for the moment, consider them as separate innovations.
Smart grids use technology from the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize supply and demand levels. During periods of prolonged sunlight, like what Southern Australia experiences, smart grids can distribute energy to solar panels and slow production automatically if necessary. It provides all this data through IoT sensors that experts can take action from.
Then, microgrids operate on smaller scales than bigger, standard power plants. While solar energy often runs on microgrids, this adaptation should increase. With more grids, PV panels can operate more smoothly. However, on the other hand, bigger grids can distribute energy to more places. Ultimately, it will depend on the needs of the community.
Experts can combine smart grids and microgrids to create optimal energy production and distribution. Of course, they’ll need to use environmentally friendly tools and materials, too — like transformers that can withstand heat and flames. Regardless, now is the time to change energy grids to keep renewables expanding.
The bigger picture
Changes to the energy grid are exciting. They promise a better integration of renewable sources, which brings the planet closer to energy sustainability. This movement speaks to the bigger picture — phasing fossil fuels out.
The catch, though, is that industry experts will want to phase out harmful energy sources in a way that is inexpensive, helps the environment and promises future renewable growth. Since solar and wind prices are decreasing, now is the perfect time to make sure the grid keeps up with the speed of renewable growth.
In instances of high production and high demand, renewable energy can then operate smoothly. Residents don’t have to worry about energy companies shutting off their power. They also won’t have to worry about outages due to climate change.
For instance, California residents were having trouble with their solar panels during the 2020 wildfires. The ash covered the panels and disrupted the energy conversion process, and the smog covered the sky, blocking the sun’s rays.
Switching to better grid solutions will help optimize production during times like these while seeking to reduce climate change and its effects.
Expanding the grid
Making changes to the grids for renewable energy sources means bringing them to their fullest potential. It’s what will help residents transition to better, cleaner resources that they can rely on. Depending on the application, these dynamics can be a double-edged sword — more renewables could mean grids can’t hold the distribution.
However, these dynamics can also be a win-win scenario. With better grid optimization, renewable energy sources can flourish and continue to rise to the top.
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Cover image by Matthew Henry.