California is Struggling With Too Much Solar Energy Leading to Grid Overload

By: Georgia | Published: Apr 23, 2024

California’s grid is feeling the pressure from its substantial solar power capacity—nearly 47 gigawatts, enough to light up 13.9 million homes. 

While showcasing the state’s commitment to renewable energy, it also uncovers new hurdles in managing this abundant clean energy.

Negative Electricity Prices

On days rich with sunshine but low in demand, California’s energy abundance causes a curious situation: electricity prices can drop below zero, The Washington Post reveals.

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A residential house with a stucco facade at dusk. The slanted roof is equipped with solar panels and has a chimney, against a backdrop of a clear sky

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This means the state occasionally has to cut back on solar production to prevent overwhelming the grid.

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Pulling Back on Solar Perks

Faced with an overload of solar power, California has scaled back incentives for solar installations. 

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A single-story suburban home with a large solar panel installation on its roof. The house is against a backdrop of rolling hills and clear skies

Source: Wikimedia Commons

By reducing the pace at which new panels are added, the state aims to stabilize the market and ensure solar remains economically viable.

The Cost of Cutting Solar

Curtailing solar power isn’t just about flipping switches to shut down excess production. 

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A multi-story apartment building with solar water heaters installed on the roof. A 'Now Selling' banner hangs on the balcony, with a clear blue sky above

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The Washington Post notes that this necessary measure can significantly impact the financial attractiveness of solar investments in California as it becomes a more common occurrence.

Home Solar Economics Shift

California’s recent changes to its net-metering policy mean that homeowners with new solar panels are paid based on current electricity market values, which can be minimal during times of low demand. 

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A brick residential house with a gable roof featuring a grid-tied solar panel system. The panels are mounted on the rear slope of the roof under a clear blue sky

Source: Vivint Solar/Unsplash

This change has dimmed the economic appeal of new solar installations.

The Infamous Duck Curve

Dubbed the “duck curve,” this graph shape illustrates the mismatch between high solar output and low demand, particularly pronounced in the spring. 

An expansive solar farm with rows of large solar panels angled towards the sky. The installation is in a green field under a clear blue sky

Source: Zbynek Burival/Unsplash

This imbalance poses a unique challenge for grid management in California.

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A Growing Issue: Solar Power Waste

In 2022 alone, California was forced to discard about 2.4 million megawatt-hours of solar energy.

A worker on a shingled rooftop installing a new solar panel. He is wearing casual clothes and securing the panel to the mounting system

Source: Bill Mead/Unsplash

Such significant loss accounted for roughly 1% of the state’s total power generation and 5% of its solar output.

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A Downturn in Solar Installations Expected

The Washington Post reports that experts from Wood Mackenzie project a drastic reduction—about 40%—in California’s residential solar panel installations by 2024. 

Two technicians are working on a residential rooftop, surrounded by scaffolding. One technician, wearing a yellow helmet, is installing solar panels, while the other, in a white helmet, is standing and overseeing the work

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This prediction stems from increasing economic and regulatory challenges within the state’s solar sector.

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Community Reaction to Policy Changes

The adjustments to California’s net-metering system have sparked widespread dissatisfaction among the state’s solar community. 

An expansive industrial rooftop is filled with rows of solar panels. The installation is comprehensive, covering almost the entire roof area, with HVAC units and other industrial equipment visible in the background

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Stakeholders argue that the economic viability of solar investments has been severely compromised, stirring concerns over the future of solar growth.

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A Nationwide Solar Struggle

California isn’t alone in facing challenges with solar power management. 

A modern building rooftop with an extensive array of solar panels. The skyline shows a construction crane in the distance and the ocean horizon, indicating the urban coastal setting

Source: Wikimedia Commons

States like Nevada and Hawaii are encountering similar issues, evident from the development of their own duck curves, signaling a broader national challenge for states committed to significant solar investments.

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Seeking Solutions for Solar Surplus

To manage the excess solar electricity effectively, California is exploring options such as selling surplus power to neighboring states and increasing investments in battery storage systems. 

A suburban house at dusk, featuring a new installation of sleek solar panels on its roof. The home's neutral tones and tidy front yard suggest a serene residential setting

Source: Vivint Solar/Unsplash

These strategies are aimed at maximizing the efficient use and distribution of solar-generated electricity.

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Weighing the Cost of Solar Growth

Paul Denholm from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggests that even though some solar power is curtailed, the overall economics of solar can remain beneficial. 

Solar panels installed on a terracotta-tiled residential rooftop. The house is framed by palm trees against a cloudy sky, suggesting a tropical or subtropical location

Source: Vivint Solar/Unsplash

This viewpoint emphasizes that the advantages of solar, both in cost savings and environmental impact, can outweigh the drawbacks of occasional overproduction.

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