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Photovoltaics on the rise: strain on the power grids?

Renewable energy is good for our environment and for our utility bills. Still, with new electricity producers come new challenges. Again and again, we hear and read that there may be an overload on the power grids. What is this concern all about? Here is a brief overview.

The development of photovoltaics in Europe

The global photovoltaic market is doing extremely well. In many regions of the world, solar power is already the cheapest form of electricity. Moreover, in view of global warming, solar energy is becoming a central pillar of energy supply with excellent prospects for the future.

Prices for photovoltaic systems have fallen massively in recent years , further fuelling the expansion of solar energy.

In a global comparison, however, Europe is still in its infancy when it comes to photovoltaic expansion.

China is ahead in terms of photovoltaic expansion. If you take a closer look at Europe, Germany is the absolute front-runner. If you take Germany out of the overview of European countries, a colorful field emerges in which Austria can be found in the lower third.

With the help of this interactive graphic you can compare some countries yourself.

The photovoltaic market in Austria

How does the photovoltaic market in Austria look in general? Although Austria recorded an increase of 341 megawatts in photovoltaic systems in 2020, we are still at a comparatively low level here. However, this increase of around 38 percent compared to 2019 is naturally positive.

Overall, photovoltaics covered about 3.6 percent of electricity demand, says the latest report on market development 2020 , published by the Ministry of Climate Protection in Vienna. 2035 megawatts - that was the cumulative installed photovoltaic capacity in the country by the end of last year. Sounds a lot, but is still too little for an electricity turnaround by 2030.

The Renewable Energy Expansion Act (EAG) passed in July 2021 is intended to create the necessary framework conditions. What is to change concretely by the adoption is on the following summary of Photovoltaik Austria

. However, it remains to be seen how quickly we will feel the first results. The goal of sourcing 100% electricity from renewable sources in Austria by 2030 remains ambitious.

Are solar and wind power putting a strain on the power grid?

In recent years, renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics and wind power have been massively expanded - and that's a good thing. In some cases, pure consumers have become producers and self-consumers in one. This is a step in the right direction, although not always easy to integrate into existing structures. What exactly is at stake?

The most important renewable energies at present are dependent on the weather and cannot be flexibly regulated: one day there's a fair amount of wind, then it's calm again; there are days and times of day with strong sunshine, and then there are dull and dark hours.  This means that there are times when these plants reach their maximum output, which can then drop off again rapidly. Predicting these fluctuations, apart from the day-night rhythm, is not so easy. But why is it relevant at all?

Our power grid must always have the same voltage and frequency (50 hertz) throughout Europe. Even the smallest deviations (e.g. 49.7 Hz) can lead to major problems, such as a Europe-wide blackout. The peak outputs of solar and wind power plants cause a problematic increase in this frequency at certain points - and this is precisely what needs to be worked on so that renewable energies can become a cornerstone of the energy supply. However, there are different approaches here.

Decentralized use and storage as a solution for peak loads

Are renewable energy power plants (no matter how small or large) a problem for our power grid? Or is it rather the feed-in of electricity with the well-known load peaks? The answer here is almost obvious.

Sensible solutions for the stability of the voltage of our grids are decentralized electricity storage (such as heat storage or battery storage at home) as well as constant self-consumption of the self-generated electricity. In this way, load peaks are not fed into the power grid, but to local use. The problem of peak loads would have been solved in this case. Electricity storage systems do not fall within our scope of work, but we are doing sustainable innovation work in increasing the self-consumption of photovoltaic electricity.

More about higher self-consumption can be found here.

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