On March 11, the State of California was producing a proverbial shitload of clean energy. For the first time in its history, the entire state got half of its total energy needs from solar power.
As cool as this is, it actually gets better. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), for several hours, so much solar power was being generated that energy prices for consumers turned negative. This meant that there was so much clean energy going around that Californians were effectively given money for free for a little while.
How is this even possible? Well, it comes down to two factors – the efficiency of renewable energy, and the inability to store it.
Despite the projectile vomit of pseudoscientific bullshit that is streaming almost continuously out of the Trump administration right now, and the rolling back of Obama-era climate change prevention measures, plenty of US states have realized that renewable energy is both good for the economy and the environment.
Solar power is becoming very cheap and increasingly good at converting sunlight into electricity, and is proving a popular option for states like California. As such, it’s proliferated across the Golden State, and when the weather is particularly good, they produce a heck of a lot of their energy through photovoltaic panels alone.
The problem is that, with few exceptions around the world, you cannot currently store renewable energy in a true battery system, so it has to immediately be deployed to the grid. When so much of it is being produced that it exceeds demand, the energy is pumped through the grid anyway as excess.
Customers don’t technically need it, so in effect, energy companies “buy” it off them and prices turn negative. The exact same situation occurred in Germany back in May last year after wind power production managed to exceed the national demand, and consumers were being paid to use electricity.
This unusual phenomenon is set to become more commonplace as time ticks by as renewable energy continues to proliferate across the US and the wider world. As Quartz point out, this negative pricing is most likely to occur in the Spring, when weather is better and demand for both heating and cooling is lower than usual.
Either way, this incident is another sign that the global dependence on fossil fuels is gradually coming to an end. All we need know is someone like Elon Musk to develop a proper storage system for clean energy, and then we’re set.