Ron Schwartau, Board Member at Minnesota Rural Electric Association, gave an interesting counterpoint to the "Time to Consider Solar (Mar. issue)," in which we reported on the recent interest in solar panels due to a drop in system pricing. Schwartau writes:
"Time to Consider Solar" was interesting but not entirely accurate in portrayal of solar and other renewable energy.
The mistake is in stating that "the additional energy created...is fed into the utility grid and stored there to provide backup supply when needed." The wires don't store energy for use later. The only ways to currently store the power for use later are with very expensive battery systems or pumped air/water storage,( which then has to be run through a generator again).
These systems are expensive and add to the overall cost of power for the eventual consumer.
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Some people criticize our rural electric cooperatives and other utilities as not being supportive of distributed renewable generation. But that is not the case. Even our rural electric systems are engaged in renewable power.
Our cooperative, for example, owns a large wind turbine and will in the near future install some PV solar as well. Where we really run into problems is when governments require utilities to pay retail price for power generated by distributed generation, such as PV and wind owned by consumers or members, with little regard to the cost of providing the distribution of backup power to those facilities. These costs are then being shifted to other consumer/members. If distributed generation becomes the norm, some means of recovering the costs of our current transmission and distribution costs will have to become part of the equation. And the same can be said of generation. If wind suddenly stops or the sun sets( which it seems to do every day) and we have not developed affordable storage systems for excess distributed generation, then base load generation is required to provide those consumers with power. Those generation facilities take time to spin up to meet demand if there is a sudden shift on the grid. Additionally, those generation facilities cannot exist without a financial model which recovers their costs.
As you can see it is not a simple problem, or as simple as some people seem to think.
--Ron Schwartau, Board Member at Minnesota Rural Electric Association