This Looks Like a Job for Solar PV: Heat Wave Causes Record-Breaking Electricity Demand

Here’s another strong case for more solar photovoltaics: Last week’s 30-state heat wave caused record-breaking demand spikes in three regional transmission systems, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. New York’s Independent System Operator came close — only 74 megawatts away from a 2006 record.

That record demand comes at an enormous cost. As power providers ramp up all the dirty, fossil-based “spinning reserve” capacity they have available, electricity prices shoot through the roof. In PJM, a transmission organization that covers the mid-Atlantic and some surrounding states, wholesale prices jumped to nearly 35 cents a kilowatt-hour. Today, the cost of solar electricity ranges anywhere from 12 cents to 30 cents per kilowatt hour — in some cases, potentially a third of what it costs to meet peak demand with conventional resources.

The second-highest prices were in New York’s ISO, where they reached almost 30 cents a kilowatt-hour. As we wrote about earlier this month, solar PV can already compete with retail electricity rates in New York City where grid congestion has driven rates 60% higher than the national average. New York State is currently considering a bill that could realize around 5 GW of solar PV — providing competitive resources that can help the state reliably meet peak demand, explained Rosalind Jackson of Vote Solar to Climate Progress:

These sky-high electricity prices and outage alerts are a pretty clear indicator that New York’s business-as-usual energy approach is broken. Solar is primed and ready to cost-effectively address New York’s power needs, especially the peak demand that paralyzes the state’s power grid on hot summer days. The bill’s goal of 5 gigawatts of local solar development would go a long way toward repowering the state.

The beauty of solar PV is that it matches up perfectly with demand on the sunniest summer days of the year. As Richard Perez, an energy expert from the University of Albany appropriately said to Climate Progress about his solar research: “we should be using the source of the problem to create the solution.”

If this graph doesn’t prove the value of distributed solar, consider this: During the 2003 Northeast blackout that caused $8 billion in economic losses, as little as 500 MW of solar PV deployed in the Midwest and Northeast could have prevented the disaster. Perez and a group of colleagues researched the issue back in 2004, shortly after the economically-devastating incident:

Prior to the precursor events power flow from the south into Northern Ohio, Southern Michigan and Western Pennsylvania were of the order of 5000 MW, a substantial portion of this was transiting to Ontario. Had local dispersed generation been available in/near Detroit, Cleveland and Toronto, these transfers would have been reduced and inadvertent power line trips would have been inconsequential. A 10% power transfer reduction could have been achieved with a total PV resource of 0.5 GW dispersed throughout northern Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Ontario.

In a report released in June, Perez and two other researchers also found that the value of distributed solar can be worth more than the actual cost of the electricity — ranging from 14 to 30 cents. That value comes from decreased investments in transmission, increased reliability during times of high demand, and environmental benefits associated with reducing “peaking” fossil fuel generation.

As tropical heat waves around the U.S. become the “new normal,” these spikes in demand are only going to get higher and more frequent. It’s time we met that demand with clean generation that provides proven economic and environmental value.


Below are old comments from the previous Facebook commenting system:

Aubrey Enoch

Sunshine is the only income we’ve got.

July 25 at 8:06pm

Paul Magnus

I guess New York is ahead of everyone….

Climate Portals

NYC looks to solar to combat blackouts.
The city, CUNY and the Department of Energy are using tools like the NYC Solar Map to encourage solar installation and ease the grid’s burden.​/technology/2011/07/22/t_b​sg_nyc_solar_map_cuny.cnnm​oney/

July 25 at 8:30pm

Joan Savage

Is the NREL calculator for the most efficient PVs or average?

The NREL PV Watts Calculator gave 4.08 Kwh / m2 / year for upstate NY. That didn’t look too promising for a small household with about 40 m2 of sun-facing roof. A roof-ful of panels over a year would produce about half of a single month’s electric usage. What would be enough incentive to add PV if it is mostly a “summer crop” to sell for peak loads on the grid?
I’m not up on the latest.

July 25 at 10:20pm


You can modify the “derate” factor to suit your needs. If you leave it at default, it’s somewhat pessimistic. However, this may be good given PV Watts doesn’t account for multiple days of zero production you’ll get in upstate NY from snow.

In NY you should be able to get net metering for residential solar up to 25 kW. Basically this means you’ll only get charged by the utility for your net annual or monthly use (power taken from the grid minus the power your panels provide). You won’t be able to capitalize on peak market conditions (or suffer the low price days in Spring and Fall either for that matter).

July 26 at 6:30am

Joan Savage

Thanks very much for the prompt. In looking for “derate” I found other options, such as 2-axis tracking.The NREL PVWatts v.2 gives monthly values for average daily output.
The entry layer of the NREL mapping that gave 4.08 Kwh / m2 / year should be corrected to say 4.08 Kwh / m2 / DAY averaged over a year. That of course is a whopping difference. No wonder folks think it’s not feasible if they see the way-low number on the NREL map. Heck, with my conservative energy use I’d only need a couple of panels to be off grid even in January. If the panels are tilted enough, the famous upstate New York snow could slide off. Amazing.

July 26 at 8:38am

Leif Erik Knutsen

There are PV Modules that have no proud edges that shed snow easily even at low angles. Silicon Energy products for one. ( No affiliation.)

July 26 at 11:52am


Yes. Solar PV is becoming popular to meet growing demand for more power.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP), India.
Wind Energy Expert.
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail​.com

July 26 at 12:32am

John Tucker

HVAC systems have huge power requirements. Solar is an effective tool but to rely on it without/to replace either nuclear, hydro and/or wind would ultimately mean a commitment to majority gas for backup. That needs to be made clear.

The summer peak output is nice but clouds can change PV output from full to around 50 to 20 percent.

July 26 at 1:05am

Leif Erik Knutsen

I have found that broken clouds and sun can increase my PV Array production ~10%+ above rated output. Plus less AC is required with cloud coverage.

July 26 at 12:02pm

Nelson Colaferro Jr

that s it …………

July 26 at 2:22am


Must Watch

Electric Cars Rule Ga. Town​ch?v=C1XPWVL-nZ8&feature=p​layer_embedded.

I want to live there.

July 26 at 5:23am

Paul Magnus

Want one…

July 26 at 10:11am


Delegates say alternative energy sources key to national security.

July 26 at 6:10am


DuPont buys solar tech company Innovalight.​cle/commoditiesNews/idAFN1​E76O0HS20110725

July 26 at 6:11am


study of different renewable energy, solar comes out to have the most applications, longer lifespan, versatile and practically less maintenance.​bacolod/opinion/2011/07/26​/ombion-versatile-solar-po​wer-169072

July 26 at 6:12am


Like the post… Where is solar hitting 12 cents a kWh? I don’t think it’s the NE is it? And regardless, solar needs 12 to 30 cents 365 days a year. Without factoring in environmental externalities, the grid doesn’t need that.

July 26 at 6:32am

Robert Malin

Solar is how the planet gets it’s energy and so should we. Stop the war on nature- we are losing.

July 26 at 2:22pm

Greg Fiske

“The beauty of solar PV is that it matches up perfectly with demand on the sunniest summer days of the year.”

July 29 at 12:37pm

Comments are closed.