Residential Solar Panels

residential solar panels duck curve

The oddly named phenomenon of the Duck Curve is one of the issues that are caused by the increasing adoption of residential solar panels in Los Angeles and the rest of California. The Duck Curve is the name given to the inversion of supply and demand caused by the generation of solar energy; specifically, during the daytime, when most of the solar power is being generated, energy use is relatively low. However, during the evening and night times, when no solar power is being generated, the demand for electricity is at its highest.

A graph showing the time of day vs the power demand somewhat resembles the silhouette of a duck because, during the day, power use bottoms out as the need for electricity is met, or exceeded, by the power generated by solar panel installations. On the graph, this is represented by a shallow parabola, or the “belly” of the duck. The increase in demand for power after the sun sets shows a steep climb in the power demand, followed by a gradual levelling out, which are, respectively, the neck and bill of the duck.

This can cause problems for the power companies serving the cities where the Duck Curve occurs. Since this is a problem for the power suppliers, it is still a smart idea for homeowners to install residential solar panels. Los Angeles is one of the cities where solar panel use is high, so it is also one of the places where the Duck Curve is present, and once everyone realizes that solar power is here to stay, it could be where the Duck Curve gets solved.

How Do Residential Solar Panels Contribute to the Duck Curve?

The power companies do not see solar power as conventional power since they do not supply it and do not regulate its production. From their perspective, the generation of solar power seems like a reduction in the power they produce. The power produced by the electric companies is called the total load and the total load minus renewable energy is called net load, which is what the power companies have to deploy.

The integration of solar panel technology means that there is a huge reduction in net load during the day as the solar installations generate all, or most, of the power needed by residents. During the evening and night time, net load increases drastically since there is no solar power to compensate for the increased demand. This means that the power companies have to increase, decrease, and then increase their power supply as the day transitions from morning to daytime to night time.

This ramping up and down is expensive for the power companies, and possibly disruptive as well, since the systems might need to increase production faster than they were designed for. The other problem resulting from the Duck Curve is the overproduction of solar power; this can result in a back feed of power to the power plants, their circuits are not designed to deal with this, and should the back feed get too high, it could cause problems to their electrical systems.

Residential Solar Panel Storage Can Reduce the Duck Curve

The most obvious solution to fixing the Duck Curve is storage. Currently, there are two storage solutions available, flywheels and batteries. Flywheels are very good at balancing, and accommodating, sudden shifts in supply and consumption, and can release stored energy quickly and efficiently. Batteries are a more familiar and conventional method of storage, and are a good option for the short-term storage and release of energy.

The problem with both of those methods is that they can be very expensive if they are to be used at the scale required to handle the excess energy provided by solar panel installations. Another solution is that power plants can learn to better ramp their production up and down to manage the changes in energy supply and consumption. A controversial solution is curtailment. This is when production of solar power is stopped or reduced if it gets too high for the grid to handle the excess energy.

This is a controversial option because it essentially means that potential energy is being wasted; proponents of this method claim that as long as a very small percentage of the energy produced is being curtailed, then it is not too much of a problem.

Residential Solar Panels Can Affect the Duck Curve

If a solution is not found to the overgeneration of electricity caused by solar panel installations, then it could cause even more severe problems. Hawaii is already suffering from the so-called Nessie Curve, named after the fictional (?) Loch Ness Monster because the graph has a much larger sag, or reduced energy use, and a far longer neck, or demand at peak hours.

This could result in a big reduction in the large-scale implementation of solar installations. Los Angeles’ adoption of solar technology shows that that is a solution that no one wants. Fortunately, many experts are looking for solutions that do not involve getting rid of solar power. Eventually, they will find a way to, if not kill the Duck Curve, then at least make it smaller.

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