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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

UC San Diego Researchers Create Tool to Put the Lid on Solar Power Fluctuations

University of California - San Diego
July 21, 2011

How does the power output from solar panels fluctuate when the clouds roll in? And can researchers predict these fluctuations? UC San Diego Professor Jan Kleissl and Matthew Lave, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Jacobs School, have found the answer to these questions. They also have developed a software program that allows power grid managers to easily predict fluctuations in the solar grid caused by changes in the cloud cover. The program uses a solar variability law Lave discovered.

The finding comes at a time when the Obama administration is pushing for the creation of a smart power grid throughout the nation. The improved grid would allow for better use of renewable power sources, including wind and solar.

Also, more utilities have been increasing the amount of renewable energy sources they use to power homes and businesses. For example, Southern California Edison reported this month that it is adding more large-scale solar power plants to its grid and retooling its distribution system to accommodate the power fluctuations that will follow.

Kleissl and Lave’s finding could have a dramatic impact on the amount of solar power allowed to feed into the grid. Right now, because of concerns over variability in power output, the amount of solar power flowing in the grid at residential peak demand times—your typical sunny weekend afternoon in Southern California, say—is limited to 15 percent before utilities are required to perform additional studies. As operators are able to better predict a photovoltaic system’s variability, they will be able to increase this limit. In California, a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in April 2011 requires all electricity retailers in the state, including publicly owned utilities, to generate 33 percent of their power sales from renewable energy sources by 2020. 


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