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Worldwide Grid Key to Solar Viability

a map of the world made from tile grids with various times displayed for world cities

Paul F. deLespinasse By Friday, 01 March 2024 11:04 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

Maximum electrical demand now comes during summers, when people run air conditioners. Winter heating has mostly relied on gas or oil rather than electricity.

But soon peak demand for electricity will come instead in the winter, as heat pumps replace furnaces. At the same time, we will be relying increasingly on solar energy, local availability of which is lowest in the winter.

Thanks to weather, shorter days, and the unfavorable angle of the sun in the sky, the PV panels on my roof produce only one fifth as much monthly electricity mid-winter as they do in the summer.

The combination of increased winter demand and reduced winter production is awkward, since the supply of electricity must always exactly equal what is being used.

Daily, local demand for electricity varies greatly from hour to hour. Gas interests argue that we will always need gas powered generators to handle winter's peak demand hours. They correctly note the impossible expense of storing enough electricity to get us through winter.

But there is also a significant increase in the cost of electricity when we maintain generators needed only for a few hours of daily peak demand.

Gas-burning peaking generators may be short-run necessities. But in the longer run we won't need them, since peak demand does not occur simultaneously everywhere.

Imagine that peak demand is about at 4 p.m., local time. But 4 p.m. in Chicago is 5 p.m. in New York and 2 p.m. in Seattle. The same principle holds for cities around the world.

A grid connecting countries around the world would therefore not need special generators for peak times. Peak demand in various locations would come out in the wash for that grid as a whole.

Likewise, winter in the U.S. is summer in South America, and vice versa, so that connecting North and South America would allow solar energy generated where it is summer to be consumed where it is winter.

If the entire planet is connected into a single grid, solar energy will be dependably available 24/7/365 since the sun is always shining somewhere. And the elements that could become that grid when connected together are already being built.

The history of technology suggests that it is only a matter of time before we have a worldwide grid, solar energy will be dependably available at all times and seasons, and we can stop burning climate-threatening carbon fuels.

The first telegraph message — "What hath God wrought?" — went the short distance between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore in 1844. By the mid 1860s a dependable telegraph cable connected the United States with Europe, and the entire planet was soon connected up.

The telephone followed a similar pattern. The first call, "Mr. Watson, come here," in 1876 simply went to the next room where Alexander Graham Bell's assistant stood by. By 1915, inaugurating the first telephone connection between the east and west coasts, Bell —in New York — repeated his original words, to which Watson — in San Francisco — replied it would take him a week to get there this time.

And, of course, today we can phone anywhere on the planet.

Similar growth has happened in the history of the internet.

The same pattern is being repeated by electrical grids. Thomas Edison's original generators could only transmit electricity a few blocks in New York City, but new developments came rapidly.

Electricity generated at Niagara Falls was soon powering lights, subways, and street railways in New York City. Today, electricity is being economically transmitted for thousands of miles in countries around the world and between many countries.

It is clear that the trend to larger and larger networks is still charging along, that solar energy will be the energy of the future unless there is a major fusion breakthrough, and that a worldwide grid can eliminate many of the problems now standing in the way of a totally solar future.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966 and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981. His most recent book is "The Case of the Racist Choir Conductor: Struggling With America's Original Sin." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon and other states. Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Gas-burning peaking generators may be short-run necessities. But in the longer run we won't need them, since peak demand does not occur simultaneously everywhere.
solar grid, energy
Friday, 01 March 2024 11:04 AM
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