An old grid created an economic gap in solar energy

If the United States countries ever make an impact produced by global warming carbon emissions, will have to increase the use of solar energy, much of which can be generated from rooftops in homes and businesses. Solar provides just 3 percent of America’s energy supply today, but the White House and states like California are pushing to increase that to more than 40 percent in the coming decades.

To get there, homeowners and businesses will need more financial incentives to install photovoltaic panels, while large-scale solar farms will also need land lines and power transmission from rural areas to cities. Last week, California regulators asked builders to install solar panels and store batteries in them New high rise commercial residential buildings. but New study He finds some low-income and minority neighborhoods may be left behind, mainly because utilities haven’t upgraded the electric grid equally everywhere.

The authors say that even if rooftop solar panels were free for everyone, homeowners in these areas would not be able to use the energy from the solar panels to power appliances or charge an electric car without purchasing a special battery. That’s because the power grid in those areas cannot accept the extra electric current generated by the solar panels.

“There is not enough capacity for everyone to have access to solar energy, even if that solar energy is free,” says Anna Brockway, lead author on the study published this week in the journal. nature energy And a graduate student in the Energy and Resources group at the University of California, Berkeley. “We find these limitations are more pronounced in disadvantaged and black-selected communities. These communities have less grid capacity per household to be able to absorb the solar energy people would want to have.”

Brockway and colleagues studied Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, two facilities in California, the state that generates Most solar energy in the country. PG&E service area. It stretches from Mount Shasta south to Santa Barbara, while Saudi Council of Engineers service area It covers Los Angeles County, Orange County, and San Bernardino County, as well as the border area with Nevada. They chose these two areas for utilities because they have the highest use of solar energy in the state. They both serve high and low income areas, as determined by census data, and together they provide energy for about 30 million people.

The researchers compared utility maps of “hosting capacity,” the amount of energy the electrical grid can handle in each neighborhood, with Census data on demographics and ethnic economy at the block level. They then estimated the circuit capacitance required to absorb the solar energy on the roofs and distribute it in the neighborhoods.

For decades, the power grid has been built to send electricity in one direction – from the power plant, through transmission lines, to the home or business. But homeowners are starting to produce electricity and send it the other way. In richer areas and whiter communities, where solar panels have become popular in the past few decades, utilities have upgraded equipment so that two-way current flow is easier. “Early adopters disproportionately fit some demographics of being white and having higher incomes than the average percentage payer,” says Brockway.

But this is not the case in minority neighborhoods, where rooftop solar isn’t common. Take, for example, the transformers that connect power lines to every home or business. Older panels are not built to withstand additional energy generated by rooftop panels in reverse. Any additional current flowing will turn into heat, which can damage or destroy transformers. “Anytime you’re moving electricity from one place to another, whether it’s solar or through the grid to charge something, there’s going to be an increasing amount of power current flowing through the lines,” says Brockway. These lines are “only capable of handling a certain amount of current,” she said.

This congestion could also make it difficult to charge electric cars at home, and that would make it more difficult for the United States to switch from gas-powered cars to cleaner electric cars, says Mohit Chhabra, chief scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The fact that the grid is not ready to handle the level of electricity we want is not a good thing,” Chhabra says. “We don’t want a situation where blacks and low-income neighborhoods are unable to charge their car at home or near their home.”

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