TECHNOLOGY

An old grid has created a solar energy economic divide


If United As states continue to suppress their production of planetary warming carbon emissions, it will need to increase the use of solar energy, most of which can be generated from the roofs of homes and businesses. Solar supplies only 3 percent of the U.S. energy supply, but states like the White House and California are pushing to increase it to more than 40 percent over the next decade.

To get there, home and business owners will need more financial incentives to install photovoltaic panels, while even large-scale solar farms will need land and transmission lines to send electricity from rural areas to the city. Last week, California state regulators needed manufacturers to install solar panels and battery storage in new commercial and high-rise residential buildings. But a new study found that some low-income and minority neighborhoods may be lagging behind, largely because utilities have not upgraded the electricity grid evenly everywhere.

Even if the solar panels on the roof were free for everyone, the authors say, homeowners in this area will not be able to use electricity from solar panels or operate appliances without buying special batteries. This is because the power grid in that area cannot receive the extra electric current generated by the solar panel.

“Not everyone has enough power to get solar power, even if that solar is free,” said Anna Brockway, lead author of the study, published this week in the journal The power of nature And a graduate student at the UC Berkeley Energy and Resources Group. “We see that these restrictions are strict in black-marked and disadvantaged communities. To be able to adjust the solar of those communities every household has less grid capacity that people want to get.

Brockway and his colleagues studied Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, two utility states in California, the states that produce the most solar power in the country. PG & E’s service area extends from Mount Shasta to Santa Barbara in the south, while SCE’s service area covers Los Angeles County, Orange County and San Bernardino County and the border area of ​​Nevada. They have chosen these two utility districts because their state has the highest use of solar power. Both serve high- and low-income areas, determined by data from the census tract and together provide electricity to millions of people.

The researchers compared the utility’s own map to the “hosting capacity” of the power grid in each neighborhood, with data on ethnic population and economic censuses at the block level. They then estimated how much would be needed to install solar on the roof and the capacity of the circuit and distribute it around.

For decades, power grids have been designed to send electricity in one direction – from a power station, through a transmission line, to a home or business. But homeowners have started generating electricity and sending it differently. In affluent areas and white communities, where solar panels have become commonplace over the past few decades, utilities have upgraded equipment to facilitate two-way current flow. “Initially recipients are white and inconsistent with certain demographic characteristics of higher incomes than the average loser,” Brockway said.

But this is not the case in minority neighborhoods, where rooftop solar is not so common. Take, for example, transformers that connect power lines to every home or business. The old ones are not built to carry the extra electricity generated from the roof panels on the opposite side. Any excess current flow will turn into heat, which can damage or destroy the transformer. “Whenever you move electricity from one place to another, to charge something through solar energy or the grid, there will be an increase in the amount of electricity flowing through the line,” says Brockway. These lines, he continued, “are only able to handle a certain amount of current.”

Mohit Chabra, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the congestion could make it more difficult to charge electric vehicles at home and make it harder for the United States to switch from gas-powered to clean EV. “The grid that we don’t want to take to the level of electrification is not a good thing,” Chhabra said. “We don’t want situations where blacks and low-income neighbors are unable to charge their cars at home or near home.”



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