Solar power is becoming so ubiquitous that utility companies may need new tools to ensure they can provide steady and inexpensive power – even on overcast and cloudy days.
In early December, the US Department of Energy announced $8 million in funding for two projects to improve solar forecasting. Thes projects will create tools that provide the industry with better sunlight forecasts. These tools will be similar to what wind power grid operators currently use, and their tools allow them to make decisions early about how much electricity will be needed from non-wind sources. Sunlight forecasts might assist the solar power industry with planning ahead and would resolve the concerns of utility companies everywhere about the variability of solar power. Currently, forecasting is limited to locations like California and Hawaii, locations where solar photovoltaics are already at or near grid parity.
Scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado have noted that general utility company apprehension comes from the concern that they will not be able to manage solar on the grid, a task that requires a constant balancing act. The amount of electricity generated must always be in alignment with what is being used by customers.
Solar power is not a huge player on the grid, yet, so grid operators don’t panic on every cloudy day. Solar prices are currently falling approximately 10% annually, so experts predict there will be an uptake in consumption.
Experts agree that the solar industry must plan ahead and expect the demand for solar forecast data to grow.