Modern solar plants give utilities the flexibility they need to respond to fluctuating electricity demand, and “should be used to provide essential grid reliability services so less conventional fossil-fueled generation is needed for that purpose,” Standard & Poor’s market analysts report, citing a study released this week by Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar Inc.
The study, conducted by Energy and Environmental Economics Inc. (E3), found that incorporating solar in utilities’ minute-to-minute electricity dispatch decisions “reduces fuel and maintenance costs for conventional generators and cuts air emissions, and those advantages grow as the level of solar penetration increases,” S&P Global Market Intelligence writes, in a post republished by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
“The study confirms our intuition that solar can provide the most value to the system if grid operators fully utilize the flexible dispatch capabilities of solar power plants,” E3 Senior Partner Arne Olson said in a release. “Utilities and grid operators should stop thinking of solar as a problem to be managed, and start thinking of it as an asset to be maximized.”
S&P explains that many utility-scale solar facilities are built to deliver their highest output if it is used as it becomes available—creating the widespread concern or perception that they need gas plants as backup when the sun isn’t shining. “However, many modern solar power plants have the technical capabilities to precisely control their output. Such plants, referred to as flexible or dispatchable solar, can be called upon by a grid operator to meet system requirements.”