As more and more homeowners shift towards using solar energy, the way we use electricity has changed. Here's a look at what has changed and what it means.
As more and more homeowners make the shift to solar, the way that we consume energy — both in our personal lives and on a societal scale — is also shifting. And with some surprising results. Here’s a look at how solar is changing energy consumption, and how we are becoming smarter energy consumers.
We store energy.
Solar energy relies on the sun, a renewable energy source if ever there was one. While this is certainly a benefit of solar, it can also be a drawback. Why? Because electricity cannot be generated at night. Or during cloudy days. Or when storms bring heavy rains that block the sun. In order to generate power when the sun isn’t shining, it becomes necessary to connect to another power source like the local utility grid. And as weather gets more extreme due to climate change, adding strain to the grid isn’t always the most viable — or sustainable — option.
When utilizing a weather-dependent source of energy such as the sun, how do we tap into power without increasing the pressure on the grid? The answer: Solar batteries. These help extend the energy produced when the sun is out long into the night, or in inclement or cloudy weather. They reduce the need to source energy from a local utility. Solar batteries can also serve as a source of energy during an outage. And while a typical single battery will not power an entire home, it will send energy to the house’s critical loads (lights, certain appliances) so you’ll be able to get energy from them as needed.
We look at the big picture.
The more that solar expands onto the societal grid, the daytime energy generation from the sun displaces human-made generation from nonrenewable resources. So theoretically, solar displaces the generation from natural resources — a good thing — but energy consumption increases as we continue to use more electricity as a society.
Enter “beneficial electrification.” This refers to replacing the use of fossil fuels with that of electricity in a way that reduces emissions and energy costs even if consumption is increasing. It’s a new approach in the energy sector that looks at energy consumption from an economy-wide perspective; for example, analyzing an electric vehicle by its lifecycle of energy savings compared to that of a gas-powered car, and not by how much electricity it consumes. Think of beneficial electrification as a climate-friendly way to electrify everything on a societal scale; a win-win-win for solar users, utility companies, and the environment.
We contribute to a resilient electrical grid.
A peaking power plant, or peaker, is known as the last power plant to be turned on and the last one to be dispatched. Basically, a peaker is switched on only when energy demand is high or peaking — hence, the name. These plants supply energy only occasionally, and when they do, they rely on fossil fuels to operate. This makes a peaker both less efficient and more harmful to the environment. Peaker plants are also expensive to build. But thanks to advances in the solar energy sector — such as affordable energy storage for residential and commercial spaces, innovative demand-response techniques, and emerging grid technologies — peaker plants are becoming less needed as a reliable form of energy production during peak times.
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