01 September 2014 | Posted by Zachary
Solar power and wind power are projected to become the top two sources of electricity globally within the coming century (well, within the coming few decades). Both have tremendous benefits and have become cost-competitive. In fact, they are even the cheapest options for new electricity capacity in many markets.
However, they both have one notable weakness. Solar panels and wind turbines can only create electricity when the sun is shining and when the wind is blowing, respectively. This doesn’t make them uncompetitive, but it is a weakness that brings down their level of competitiveness, especially in certain markets.
The wonderful thing, however, is that the sun and the wind are extremely complementary. In fact, there’s a reason for that. Very sunny months tend to be less windy and very windy months tend to be less sunny. Take a look at this chart of German electricity production from solar panels and wind turbines from Zayed Future Energy Prize winner Fraunhofer:
“Due to the country’s climate, high solar irradiance and high wind strength have a negative correlation in Germany. With an installed capacity of 30 GW of PV and around 30 GW of wind power in 2012, the amount of solar and wind power fed into the grid by September 30 of that year rarely exceeded the 30 GW mark (Figure 29: ). Therefore, limiting feed-in from solar and wind at a threshold value of nearly half the sum of their nominal powers does not lead to substantial losses. A balanced mix of solar and wind power generation capacities is markedly superior to the one-sided expansion that would be brought about through the introduction of a competitive incentive model (e.g. the quota model).”
This is a rather subtle but very important point. In many places, rather than heavily incentivizing one form of these renewable energy sources (e.g., solar) and not another (wind), it’s important to incentive both somewhat equally, since they help each other.
Of course, this depends on the climate a bit, but the complementary nature of wind and solar power is common in regions around the world.