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The Solar Power Duck Curve Explained

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The Solar Power Duck Curve Explained

The Solar Power Duck Curve Explained

With the increasing demand for electricity as the world shifts away from fossil fuels, cleaner sources of energy like solar and wind are becoming more and more common.

However, as more solar power is introduced into our grids, operators are dealing with a new problem that can be visualized as the “duck curve.”

Origins of the Duck Curve

In a world heavily reliant on electricity, utility companies have gotten better at using data to anticipate demand and trying to operate as efficiently as possible.

Usually, power companies supply the least amount of power overnight while most consumers are sleeping, ramping up during the morning as people wake up and businesses get going. Then, at sunset, energy demand peaks.

Utility companies use models to predict demand and operate as efficiently as possible by supplying more power during times of higher demand. But the introduction of solar power has brought about problems in these demand curve models.

Since solar power relies on the Sun, peak solar production occurs around midday, when electricity demand is often on the lower end. As a result, energy production is higher than it needs to be, and net demand—total demand minus wind and solar production—falls. Then, when evening approaches, net demand increases, while solar power generation falls.

This discrepancy results in a net demand curve that takes the shape of a duck, and the duck curve gets more pronounced each year, as more solar capacity is added and net demand dips lower and lower at midday.

Why the Curve is Ruffling Feathers

The drop in net demand at midday basically creates two problems:

  1. Solar energy production wanes as the sun sets, just as demand for energy typically peaks. Utility companies are having to ramp up production to compensate for this gap, often overstressing a grid that is not yet set up for these peaks.
  2. Traditional sources of energy like nuclear and coal are only economic when they are running all the time. If you have to turn them off at mid-day because the power is supplied by solar, they become economically unfeasible.

Due to overproduction, solar power is already being wasted in some places where the technology is widely used, like California.

The problem is most intense during summer or spring when part of the solar panels has to be turned off to avoid overloading or even damaging the power grid.

Flattening the Duck

With more countries starting to rely on solar power, there are many potential solutions for the duck curve being explored (and implemented):

  • Energy Storage: Overproduction of solar power during the day can be utilized by improving batteries and grid storage capacity.
  • Powering Alternatives: Extra solar power can go towards powering energy generation at night, such as pumping water for hydroelectricity or overheating a material to dissipate energy later.
  • Other Clean Sources: Unlike solar energy, sources like nuclear, hydroelectric, and geothermal can operate continuously and fill in the demand gap.

While grid managers study how to serve the new supply and demand, the duck curve is one of the greatest challenges facing renewable energy.

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Energy Shift

Ranked: The World’s Largest Lithium Producers in 2023

Three countries account for almost 90% of the lithium produced in the world.

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Voronoi graphic showing the top lithium producers in 2023.

The World’s Largest Lithium Producers in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Three countries—Australia, Chile, and China—accounted for 88% of lithium production in 2023.

In this graphic, we list the world’s leading countries in terms of lithium production. These figures come from the latest USGS publication on lithium statistics (published Jan 2024).

Australia Leads, China Approaches Chile

Australia, the world’s leading producer, extracts lithium directly from hard-rock mines, specifically the mineral spodumene.

The country saw a big jump in output over the last decade. In 2013, Australia produced 13,000 metric tons of lithium, compared to 86,000 metric tons in 2023.

CountryLithium production 2023E (metric tons)
🇦🇺 Australia86,000
🇨🇱 Chile44,000
🇨🇳 China33,000
🇦🇷 Argentina9,600
🇧🇷 Brazil4,900
🇨🇦 Canada3,400
🇿🇼 Zimbabwe3,400
🇵🇹 Portugal380
🌍 World Total184,680

Chile is second in rank but with more modest growth. Chilean production rose from 13,500 metric tons in 2013 to 44,000 metric tons in 2023. Contrary to Australia, the South American country extracts lithium from brine.

China, which also produces lithium from brine, has been approaching Chile over the years. The country increased its domestic production from 4,000 metric tons in 2013 to 33,000 last year.

Chinese companies have also increased their ownership shares in lithium producers around the globe; three Chinese companies are also among the top lithium mining companies. The biggest, Tianqi Lithium, has a significant stake in Greenbushes, the world’s biggest hard-rock lithium mine in Australia.

Argentina, the fourth country on our list, more than tripled its production over the last decade and has received investments from other countries to increase its output.

With all the top producers increasing output to cover the demand from the clean energy industry, especially for electric vehicle (EV) batteries, the lithium market has seen a surplus recently, which caused prices to collapse by more than 80% from a late-2022 record high.

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Visualizing Copper Production by Country in 2023

Chile and Peru account for one-third of the world’s copper output.

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Voronoi graphic illustrating global copper production in 2023.

Visualizing Copper Production by Country in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Copper is considered an essential metal for the clean energy transition because it is a great conductor of electricity.

As a result, governments around the world have been encouraging the construction of new mines, and mining companies have been seeking new projects and acquiring existing mines to meet the growing demand.

In this graphic, we illustrate global copper production in 2023, based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, as of January 2024.

Most Copper Comes from South America

Chile and Peru account for one-third of the world’s copper output.

CountryRegion2023E Production
(Million tonnes)
🇨🇱 ChileSouth America5.0
🇵🇪 PeruSouth America2.6
🇨🇩 Congo (Kinshasa)Africa2.5
🇨🇳 ChinaAsia1.7
🇺🇸 United StatesNorth America1.1
🇷🇺 RussiaEurope/Asia0.9
🇦🇺 AustraliaOceania0.8
🇮🇩 IndonesiaAsia0.8
🇿🇲 ZambiaAfrica0.8
🇲🇽 MexicoNorth America0.7
🇰🇿 KazakhstanAsia0.6
🇨🇦 CanadaNorth America0.5
🇵🇱 PolandEurope0.4
🌍 Rest of World--3.1
World total (rounded)--21.5

Chile is also home to the two largest mines in the world, Escondida and Collahuasi.

Meanwhile, African countries have rapidly increased their production. The Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, transitioned from being a secondary copper producer in the late 1990s to becoming the third-largest producer by 2023.

Part of the growth in copper mining in Africa is attributed to high investment from China. Chinese mining companies represent 8% of Africa’s total output in the mining sector.

Within its territory, China has also seen a 277% growth in copper production over the last three decades.

In the U.S., Arizona is the leading copper-producing state, accounting for approximately 70% of domestic output. Copper is also mined in Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.

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