First Evidence of Effects of Solar Arrays
This is another post in my occasional digressions into non-nuclear turf, done in the interest of trying to provide a full picture of the potential pluses and minuses of all energy supply technologies.
In this case, I am reporting on solar arrays and the issue of grid stability. Nuclear power proponents have long pointed out that our grids depend on a reliable source of baseload power, and that the irregularity and instability of wind and solar energy could result in serious problems. I have believed that, but to date had not seen reports of specific problems.
In the US, perhaps, we haven't reached that point. However, Germany apparently has reached that point. A report from Germany in recent weeks cites Stephan Kohler, an energy advisor to the German government, as saying that the generous feed-in tariffs have resulted in an "explosion" of new rooftop solar panels and large-scale photovoltaic plants, and that this is seriously stressing Germany's aging power grid. He is actually quoted as saying that "expansion of solar power has to be cut back quickly and drastically."
Now, like most stories, this one may not be quite so simple. Upgrading the grid may help solve the problem. This is not an inexpensive proposition in itself. Further, I have my own concerns that so-called "smart grids" may have their own vulnerabilities, but I don't want to end this post by crossing my arms and saying "told you so." The truth is never as simple as that.
Germany has apparently made the classic mistake of rushing full-tilt into a policy position on solar installations without considering what would happen if it was wildly successful. Of course, Germany isn't unique in its short-sightedness. So far, in my observation, every country keeps making the same mistake again and again. Just think about the effects of increasing ethanol on food crops and food prices.
My message is simply that the German experience is just the latest cautionary tale that we really need to learn to do a better job of anticipating the potential impacts of all technologies.