Stand alone solar systems usually consist a few different components. The solar cells are only one part of the system. There is usually also a bank of batteries to store the energy that the solar cells generate during the daylight. There are also controllers to efficiently charge up the batteries and change the electricity to forms that are useful. Many stand alone systems need a backup generator that fires up when the load is too much for the cells or batteries to handle.
My question refers to the use of batteries with the electricity grid. Our energy use varies over the day. Before and after work residential energy use may peak, while at night and during the middle of the day the residential energy use may be minimal. For the majority of people our power comes from the grid, and I suppose the energy load at any time is generated in real time. So I suppose that there are daily peaks and troughs in energy demand during the day for a large number of households and/or workplaces.
If households contained a bank of batteries, that were charged up in offpeak times and controlled through computers connected via internet to the power utilities, that may have an effect of flattening the power needs over the space of a day. The load on the whole system could become more constant, rather than responding in real time to the energy needs as they arise throughout the day. In peak times during the day energy is taken from the batteries, rather than all from the grid.
The arguments for nuclear power stations usually mention base-load electricity generation. The arguments are that we need a higher base-load generation capacity (mostly to handle peak demands that airconditioners demand on hot days apparently). My question is whether, in practice, base-load power generation is set to meet the peaks in power uses during a day, rather than the average that the use of local batteries would require. The widespread use of batteries may, in practice, substantially reduce the base-load requirements by charging up the batteries in offpeak times, so that the battereis can be used at the peak times – all within the same day. This is a question about the practice of energy generation, how it works in reality, rather than in theory.
Solar panels are not the only components in the solar energy option. The use of batteries may also have significant effects on reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of coal power stations by averaging the power requirements over a day.
In terms of research and development, and creating jobs and export technologies; the solar energy option has more potential. Laptop computers and mobile phones are driving research and development into batteries. The solar option would have industry spinoffs beyond just solar cells. Compare that to the potentials that R&D in nuclear waste would generate. Solar wins hands down.
One problem with solar is the cost. That is no longer the case. Thanks to the need to “debate” nuclear power as an option, we can now realistically assess the implementation of solar technology. Capital costs for a nuclear power station are in the billions of dollars, and that does not include costs of processing fuel or dealing with the wastes. If the nuclear option is worthy of “debate” then certainly the solar option, even if it is more expensive than coal power stations, is a realistic contender. If the solar option costs less that the billions needed for nuclear power stations, then it is in the running. If nuclear power stations are decades away, then a long term strategy to incrementally introduce solar cells, batteries and computer networks to manage the system efficiently is feasible.
It all depends on the political will of our population: coal, solar or nuclear.
This is a more conventional view of the energy problem.
The use of Renewables means looking at the energy problem differently.The problems, like having to have base-load capacity that can cover all cases, disappear from the perspective that Renewables bring to the problem. There may still be a need for coal power stations but not at the scale where Global Warming becomes an environmental danger (we can reasonably hope).
This is a post from the Pharoz blog written more than three years ago. The date for the post is the 21st of June 2005. It is also one of the first posts that I wrote expressing a novel approach to renewable energy systems. There are many more ideas that followed in the years since then – some ideas are admittedly more worthwhile that others. There is much more that could be done, but still for a FIRST this start wasn’t that bad. And you know what…