Seven months after workers finished installing solar panels atop the Garcia family home near Stanford University, the system is little more than a roof ornament. The problem: The local utility’s equipment is so overloaded that there is no place for the electricity produced by the panels to go.
“We wasted 30,000-something dollars on a system we can’t use,” Theresa Garcia said. “It’s just been really frustrating.”
President Biden is pushing lawmakers and regulators to wean the United States from fossil fuels and counter the effects of climate change. But his ambitious goals could be upended by aging transformers and dated electrical lines that have made it hard for homeowners, local governments and businesses to use solar panels, batteries, electric cars, heat pumps and other devices that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Much of the equipment on the electric grid was built decades ago and needs to be upgraded. It was designed for a world in which electricity flowed in one direction — from the grid to people. Now, homes and businesses are increasingly supplying energy to the grid from their rooftop solar panels.
to electricity generated by solar, wind, nuclear and other zero-emission energy sources. Yet the grid is far from having enough capacity to power all the things that can help address the effects of climate change, energy experts said.
“It’s a perfect violent storm as far as meeting the demand that we’re going to have,” said Michael Johnston, executive director of codes and standards for the National Electrical Contractors Association. “It’s no small problem.”
half of new cars sold in the country by 2030. If all of those cars were plugged in during the day when energy use is high, utilities would have to spend a lot on upgrades. But if regulators allowed more utilities to offer lower electricity rates at night, people would charge cars when there is plenty of spare capacity.
Some businesses are already finding ways to rely less on the grid when demand is high. Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen that operates an electric vehicle charging network, has installed large batteries at some charging stations to avoid paying fees that utilities impose on businesses that draw too much power.
Robert Barrosa, senior director of sales and marketing at Electrify America, said that eventually the company could help utilities by taking power when there was too much of it and supplying it when there was not enough of it.