Does solar strain the electric grid and increase everyone's utility bills?

Most current research has shown that, because US solar penetration rates are (so far) relatively low, adding solar energy to the grid has produced net benefits when the full value of solar power is considered. Those additional benefits include:

  • providing power to the grid during periods of high demand;
  • relieving costs of transmission congestion;
  • avoiding transmission energy losses;
  • reducing wholesale electricity prices from decreased demand for wholesale generation; and
  • hedging against the volatility of future fossil fuel prices that would otherwise increase electricity rates.

There are also additional societal benefits from adding solar to the grid, including:

  • improving air quality and reducing carbon pollution that would otherwise be produced from existing electricity sources;
  • avoided outages due to the increased reliability of the grid; and
  • added economic development from the net jobs and income flowing into local communities from solar installations.

Some research suggests that as the level of solar increases, both the costs of adding solar may increase and many of the benefits of additional solar may decrease. One of the challenges in answering this question is that our nation's electricity grid varies greatly between regions both in how the electricity is produced and consumed. So while there may be areas where the underlying energy mix and usage profile is flexible enough to accommodate high levels of solar penetration, putting large amounts of solar onto the grid may prove more challenging, both technically and economically, in other regions.  

Licensed Photo by Bert Kaufmann