Here’s how extreme heat can impact the grid and renewables – and what’s being done to protect them

Electrek spoke with Kam Mahdi, CEO of renewable engineering firm Clean Energy Technologies in Costa Mesa, California, about how extreme heat can impact the power grid and renewables, as well as what’s being done to keep them online.

Electrek: The southern US and other parts of the world are currently suffering an extreme heat wave, and it’s expected to continue. How can that kind of heat impact the power grid?

Kam Mahdi: The spike in temperatures inevitably drives up electricity demand, particularly due to the increased use of air conditioning. This additional demand often strains the power grid, sometimes to the point of triggering blackouts or requiring rolling blackouts to stave off a complete grid failure.

Extreme heat can also impair the efficiency of power generation and transmission. Both renewable and conventional power plants may operate less efficiently under high temperatures. Likewise, electricity transmission lines can lose efficiency due to higher resistive losses at elevated temperatures.

Adding to the complexity, these hot and dry conditions also elevate the risk of wildfires, which can wreak havoc on transmission infrastructure. This, in turn, can lead to power outages and exacerbate the challenge of power management across the grid.

Electrek: How can the high temperatures affect solar, wind, and battery storage?

Kam Mahdi: Solar and wind have unique challenges in high temperatures. While sunshine is, of course, needed to generate electricity from solar panels, extreme heat can reduce solar panels’ output efficiency by a margin of 10-25%. That’s because as the solar panel’s temperature rises, the output voltage correspondingly declines, consequently impairing the production of electricity.

Wind energy can also be impacted. Generally, high temperatures can coincide with high-pressure weather systems that lead to calm conditions, reducing wind power generation.

Battery storage systems, particularly lithium-ion batteries, can suffer in high temperatures as well. Excessive heat can accelerate chemical reactions within the battery, leading to faster degradation and reduced lifespan. Additionally, heat can increase the risk of thermal runaway, a condition that can lead to battery failure.

Electrek: Are there innovations that can be utilized to counteract the negative effects of extreme heat on renewables and battery storage?

Kam Mahdi: Engineers worldwide are currently exploring innovative concepts like thermophotovoltaics, which directly convert heat into electricity. They’re also refining solar panel designs, utilizing advanced materials and coatings for enhanced heat resistance.

In the wind energy sector, we are leveraging predictive weather models to manage power generation more effectively during high heat and low wind periods, coupled with the continual improvement of turbine design.

The battery storage industry is now focusing on robust thermal management systems incorporating advanced cooling methods, heat-resistant materials, and improved battery design in order to ensure optimum performance and extended longevity in challenging thermal conditions.

Our company, Clean Energy Technology, is contributing to this collective effort. Our heat recovery solutions enable us to capture and repurpose waste heat – a byproduct of industrial processes and power generation. This process increases efficiency and proves instrumental in managing energy demand, particularly during intense heat periods when power consumption peaks.

It’s important to incorporate a healthy mix of renewables alongside energy storage systems, which can help create a more resilient grid that’s capable of withstanding the strains brought about by extreme heat.

These strategies, combined with energy conservation efforts, are vital in ensuring a reliable energy supply, even in severe heat waves.

Kam Mahdi is a cofounder of Clean Energy Technologies (CETY) who has served as chief executive officer since the company’s inception in September 2015. He spearheaded the acquisition of General Electric Heat Recovery Solutions, positioning CETY as a key competitor in the renewable and energy efficiency sectors. Mahdi holds a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from California State University, Northridge.

Read more: As the US heats up, here’s how you can help prevent blackouts

Photo: Arizona Public Service Electric

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