"With falling minimum demands on the transmission system, we anticipate there may be times this summer when there is more generation on the system than is needed."
That's how the UK's grid operator, National Grid, describes the anticipated situation this coming summer as the country's solar capacity—which has grown at an astounding rate over the last decade—fundamentally reshapes supply and demand curves.
Growth has been so rapid, reports Business Green, that solar momentarily hit a record high of 26% of electricity supply this past Sunday afternoon. Not bad for early April. (Wind also hit a record 20.59% earlier in the same day.)
With these successes, however, come growing pains. As the National Grid statement quoted from above makes clear, there are likely going to be times when the grid is strained by more supply than demand. That's why National Grid is planning on curtailing some power production during sunny days. The company is also increasing its investments in demand-side adjustments through its so-called Demand TurnUp program, whereby businesses are actually rewarded for shifting energy-intensive operations to times of peak supply.
There's much to celebrate as solar and wind generation records topple, but it is also an important reminder that renewables will change more than where our electricity comes from. They will—by their very nature—reshape how we think about and use electricity. Given the rapid rise of both distributed and large-scale energy storage, smart thermometers and other demand management technologies, electric vehicles and new models for shaping demand, I suspect these challenges will shake themselves out as our society adjusts to a lower carbon paradigm.
They certainly don't bode too well for coal.