Solution to California’s Duck Curve

Adrienne SorensenSeptember 10, 201819031

Solution to California’s Duck Curve

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) published the iconic “Duck Curve“, predicting what would happen with electricity demand in scenarios with a high number of homes with panels along with a big amount of electricity produced from solar and wind on a utility scale.

Usage ramps up in the evening as people use a bunch of power. This shoots the power load for utilities up until about 9 pm when the power usage peaks and then drops, giving the graph the look of a duck or a goose.

Since this initial publication, the situation in California has unfolded in a similar fashion to what was forecasted. This results in a more pronounced afternoon-to-evening ramp and puts added strain on the more traditional power plants that must be relied on to pick up solar’s slack after the sun sets.

Supplementing Storage Aides Energy Crush

It turns out that something that some solar panel customers want can help alleviate this problem. Solar plus batteries, as it turns out, can alleviate this short-term power load while maintaining reliable electricity supply.


The translation is that solar power can sustain energy needs for a long period of time, like from sun up to sun down, every day, then as the sun goes down, batteries both in a residential level, and on an industrial level, would help alleviate this jump in demand for traditional power as the sun goes down.


Residential panels Decrease Reliance from Power Plants

The highest levels of utility electricity demand become shorter and less dramatic when solar and storage are incorporated together. The concept is pretty simple, if you want energy for a long period of time because you are binge-watching the Office on your computer all day, you plug into the wall. If you want to watch a couple of episodes while on a plane, you use the battery. It’s the same concept, just on a large scale.


This whole dynamic of residential solar, along with large-scale solar and wind energy production in California is already causing wholesale midday power to become so inexpensive, that keeping traditional power plants online carrying a base load of the state’s power can cost more than it is worth, causing many utilities to reconsider how they deliver Large centralized generators run at constant output for long periods of time generating power at these plants, and it costs more to run these generators, than the company is allowed to charge for power.


As the grid transforms and market expectations evolve, we are likely to see dramatic shifts in what becomes normal for wholesale electricity market prices. Stabilization of the hourly shape of electricity demand could mean reduced energy prices, evolving net-metering contracts, and less market volatility. Storage is good for solar power, and solar power is good for storage. Utilities could find it more economically optimal to purchase power on the spot market than to fire up aging generators, forcing these units into early retirement.


Whatever these fundamental shifts in electricity supply will bring, businesses with a stake in the game will change their business to handle their customer’s needs. Power plants will evolve too. If it makes more sense to have a large scale solar plant with an additional capacity to store power for later, then those companies will close their gas-fired power plants and built more solar plants. As more people switch to residential solar power with attached storage, the electronic grid will look totally different than it does today.


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Comments (1)

  • Bill F • November 8, 2018 0 0

    1) Your graphic should be the "duck curve," not a meaningless stock-image. 2) For those that are struggling to understand the argument - the issue is that peak-demand used to be midday; now the widespread adaption of solar has shifted net peak demand to dusk, when businesses are still running and homeowners are getting home and turning on the AC, and/or lights. Your local utility is NOT your friend; in most of California, it is a for-profit entity that wants to get as much $$$ as it can from you. What you've seen in the past few years is a switch to a two-part bill: the electricity, AND a separate charge for the delivery. Actually, let's add a third part: a fixed monthly charge, no matter how much electricity you use. Battery storage is still expensive, but understanding the game will help you decide if solar makes sense for you.

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