Evaluating the Limits of Solar Photovoltaics (PV) in Traditional Electric Power Systems

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In this work, we examine some of the limits to large-scale deployment of solar photovoltaics (PV) in traditional electric power systems. Specifically, we evaluate the ability of PV to provide a large fraction (up to 50%) of a utility system's energy by comparing hourly output of a simulated large PV system to the amount of electricity actually usable. The simulations use hourly recorded solar insolation and load data for Texas in the year 2000 and consider the constraints of traditional electricity generation plants to reduce output and accommodate intermittent PV generation. We find that under high penetration levels and existing grid-operation procedures and rules, the system will have excess PV generation during certain periods of the year. Several metrics are developed to examine this excess PV generation and resulting costs as a function of PV penetration at different levels of system flexibility. The limited flexibility of base load generators produces increasingly large amounts of unusable PV generation when PV provides perhaps 10-20% of a system's energy. Measures to increase PV penetration beyond this range will be discussed and quantified in a follow-up analysis.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2852-2861
Number of pages10
JournalEnergy Policy
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2007

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-640-41459


  • Intermittency
  • Photovoltaics
  • Solar


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