From barely being noticeable, renewable energy has now reached production levels that are creating weird economic and physical impacts. In the UK, so much wind energy is being produced that wind farms are being asked to stop producing power. The physical impact is surges that can damage appliances or cause blackouts. The economic impacts are similar to what’s happening in California which has recently had a day when more than half the power in the state was renewable. That sounds good, but conventional power plants continue to be necessary because of times like windless nights. Without batteries to store the excess, fossil and nuclear plants must be big enough to meet the demand. Fossil and nuclear plants have minimum power output levels that they can’t economically dip below. So, electrical grids around the world have a (possibly temporary) mix of power generators, infrastructures, and economic models. When the minimum fossil and nuclear production plus the renewable production exceed the demand, the renewables have to be dialed back and the excess power diverted to other users. In some cases, the other users have to be paid to take the power. Managing the excess in the UK cost about $540M in 2015. In California, the price for power went from $45 MW/hr to less than zero temporarily. The new technologies are advancing, but the total infrastructure isn’t mature. Until it is, people will be paying for both plus the inefficiency of the transition.
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