One hour's worth of global sunlight would be enough to power the world's energy requirements for an entire year. But even if humankind can someday harness solar power to meet global energy needs, there is another problem engineers will have to tackle: integrating solar power with existing electrical networks.
In a new review of existing research, published online in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, scientists warn that this latter challenge will not be easy be-cause solar cells – also known as photovoltaic, or PV, cells – have numerous negative impacts on current systems used to distribute electrical power.
For example, one potential problem is keeping power systems balanced as PV cells enter the existing network so that the total amount of electricity generated is always equal to the amount of electricity used by the network, explained study coauthor Mohamed ElNozahy, an electrical and computer engineer at Canada's University of Waterloo.
If these two factors – total power generation and total load – are not kept balanced at all times, "severe frequency and voltage problems would occur," ElNozahy said.