The Economist looks at the Duck Curve, goes quackers on the metaphors

duck curve
© Jordan Wirfs-Brock | Inside Energy

TreeHugger has been dining on the duck for some time; it is the graph showing that in sunny places like California or Australia there is a lot of solar power being generated in the daytime (perhaps even too much as more solar panels get installed) but not enough power in the evening. Some people think it looks like a duck. Jordan Wirfs-Brock of Inside Energy even made it quack.

Now the Data Team at the Economist looks at the duck and suggests a few ways to chop off its head. They have been working the thesaurus for duck metaphors and come up with two solutions:

One option is to adapt to a more curvaceous duck, by investing in fast-ramping power plants to help the grid withstand sharp variations in its load. The other is to put the duck on a diet, by adjusting electricity pricing with hourly rates to encourage customers to shift their power usage from high-demand to low-demand times, smoothing out unwanted fluctuations.

That might mean more gas peaker plants to rev up in the morning and the evening, but they are expensive, polluting and cost a lot of money for something that just runs a couple of hours a day. The other, variable power rates, does less to shift demand than one might think- people want to cook and watch TV and cool their house when they come home and most of these functions are hard to shift.

In the end, they conclude that storage systems, like batteries and pumped hydro, might help; batteries are how Elon Musk is killing the duck in California and Australia. They also note that electric cars, and their big batteries, could help kill the duck. In fact, BMW is trying that right now in San Francisco. They really push the metaphor with their last sentence:

Combined with greater use of dynamic pricing, the duck curve could come to resemble a gliding seabird rather than a waddling waterfowl.

TreeHugger will continue to push for yet another ducky solution: fill your home with a thick layer of duck down, (just joking; down insulation is not TreeHugger correct) or other more affordable insulation and turn it into a thermal battery. Cool it when the power is cheap and if it is really well insulated then you won't need much cooling at all. Decapitate the duck through a combination of reducing demand and increasing storage.

Then, as Jordan Wirf-Brock notes on Inside Energy, we can achieve a flat duck, or maybe a duckbilled platypus. Or maybe we can just put this metaphor to bed, perhaps we are at peak duck.

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