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How does distributed solar energy generation work?

February 18, 2020

Our energy network is dominated by very large power plants that generate tremendous amount of electricity, typically powered by fossil fuels or occasionally nuclear. These large plants are a necessary component of the grid as it exists today but have a number of draw-backs. They are often located far from the end-consumer, relying complex and expensive transmission networks which also have meaningful environmental impacts.

A growing alternative to the utility-scale power plant is distributed energy generation. Solar power is one high-profile example. Here’s how it works, and its role in the future of energy. 

What Is Distributed Generation? 

Distributed generation refers to smaller-scale energy generation, typically located closer to where the energy it generates is actually consumed.  It bypasses high voltage transmission networks and connects energy supply directly into the local grid.  

How Does Distributed Generation Help the Grid? 

Distributed generation has a number of benefits.  One is that it reduces the amount of energy lost as it travels long distances, often hundreds of miles, from generation to the end consumer.  These efficiency benefits reduce our collective need for additional energy sources. 

A second important benefit is that distributed generation promotes grid resiliency. In plain terms, major blackouts become less likely because there are more sources of power and fewer single points of failure. Because DG systems are simpler and closer, there is just less to go wrong overall.  

Finally, DG often brings environmental benefits as well.  Often clean, renewable sources of energy are chosen for local generation in part because local communities would not accept the local pollution that fossil fuel energy plants would generate.  

What Are Some Examples of Distributed Generation? 

Common examples include: 

    • Solar arrays. A solar array of panels can power one community or several through community solar farms. 

    • Wind turbines.Small wind turbines may offset some or all energy use in residential areas, farms, schools, businesses, and public places. 

    • Biomass generators: Biomass or waste combustion, and the use of biomass-fired fuel cells, can convert materials into energy instead of letting them go to waste. 

    • Electric vehicle chargers. A car powered by its owner is an example of distributed energy, too! 

Note:
Some relevant technologies, notably including biomass combustion, need
large amounts of water for steam production and for cooling, and might
have 
other environmental drawbacks. 

Community Solar: A Great Distributed Energy Option 

As more people embrace community solar, utility plants dependent on coal or other nonrenewables are replaced—and emissions are reduced. 

Learn more about community solar and how it works. Ready to start? It’s easy to sign up, contribute to a cleaner future, and start receiving your credits.

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