The Green Living Guy

solar Energy storage

Holy solar energy storage: let’s turn this up. For the solar power market, which prior to 2011 was considered strictly a niche market in the United States. However, clearly it has expanded so quickly in the past five years. Frankly, it’s been almost breathtaking. In part, the rapid expansion is the result of falling component prices as new technologies and manufacturing advances have caused the prices of solar modules to plummet. This, in turn, has spurred an installation boom. One that also contributed to $154 billion in U.S. economic effects in 2016. That’s according to research by The Solar Foundation.

Interactive map from The Solar Foundation (TSF) shows the impact of the solar industry. That’s at state, metropolitan area, county, and congressional district level. All for the United States in 2016.

energy storage for solar
Solar Energy Storage from BMW

Now the industry employs 260,000 people–mostly installers–and created one out of every 50 jobs in 2016. Most importantly it shows few signs of slowing down. Thereby and especially as more cities and states go in. For they are committing to running on 100% renewable energy.

Still, despite all its growth and its popularity among the American public we have concerns. I mean for years, solar energy has enjoyed at least 90% support in most polls.  Yet it currently only produces only 1% of electricity nationally.

What Is Holding Solar Back?

Even in states with high insolation rates (i.e., consistently high levels of sunshine for most of the year) like California and Arizona. I mean it’s like the sun does set. And it does so at the most inconvenient time. Especially when many people are returning from work or school. Moreover and need to accomplish the mundane tasks of everyday living. That’s running the dishwasher, doing laundry or doing homework by the light. Even a dining-room chandelier.

Why we need it

All those activities require consistent levels of electrical production. All which, in the case of solar panels, means the sun has to be shining. Then households have solar energy storage systems on site. The quest to find a solar energy-storage solution. One that could be manufactured and used on a mass scale. For most noteworthy it’s the Holy Grail of solar right now. And the company that finds an adequate technology will be great. It’s one that can be easily replicated. For it will be the one to lead the next step. Especially in the solar revolution.

Solar array with battery storage

And that’s the $64 billion question: When will solar storage reach critical mass. Especially so it will be inexpensive enough to be in every home that wants to install solar? Fortunately, newly released research suggests that time might not be far. I mean far in the future as previously thought.

Tesla installing the Energy Storage battery packs to support

Battery Storage, By The Numbers

When most people think of solar + battery storage, they think of old-style solar users: people who didn’t want to connect to utility grids. That’s so they moved into the middle of nowhere and needed a battery to keep their homes running. And, until now, that’s been an accurate picture.

Recent research by GTM Research, the most respected research firm on the U.S. market. They said out of the 4,400 battery-storage systems installed in 2016, 86 percent of projects were off-the-grid. In 2017, however, that balance is on its way to being reversed.

Grid or Off-Grid: That is the Question.

Predictions based on the numbers collected already suggest 57 percent of 2017’s battery storage projects will actually be grid-tied instead of off-grid or grid independent.

By 2022, GTM expects that number to skyrocket to 99 percent. So what’s going to change?

First, policies like the ones in Hawaii, California and some northeastern states. Those that are currently encouraging battery system development will spread to other states. Moreover, producing much more friendly conditions for solar battery installations in homes. In fact, there are currently states designing renewable-portfolio-standard-like goals for energy storage.  (Now California and Massachusetts are two of the most prominent. Yet, there are others).

Is California the Best Market for Energy Storage?

Most industry observers believe California is the United States’ most-advanced market for energy storage. Customer incentives like the SGIP (self-generation incentive program) help investor-owned utilities (IOUs) procure large amounts of energy storage. That’s on their networks as required by law.

In addition, the California legislature recently passed a law. It would halve the amount of time it would take to get the permits for energy storage systems. The state’s governor, Jerry Brown, has not signed the legislation yet. However, solar industry observers fully expect him to do so.

Second, research continues into different battery technologies. As battery technologies improve, they become less expensive to manufacture. I mean much like solar modules did.  

Moreover, prices will fall until they are accessible by homeowners everywhere.

The race to find the winning technology could get more than $50 million in support if two U.S. Senators get their way. Recently, a bill was introduced to the Senate, it’s the Advancing Grid Storage Act. It will also provide the money to the research arm of the Department of Energy to find new battery technologies. The goal is to drive down the prices, which currently range $3,000 to $5000 each. If the bill ever manages to pass Congress, deployment of battery storage will reach warp speeds.

Thirdly, utilities will start devising their rates to reflect battery storage. It helps them by taking critical load off the grid when they need load to be managed more effectively.

Energy Storage in New Mexico

In fact, a recent ruling by New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission, which oversees the state’s utilities, has instructed its utilities to include energy storage solutions in their next long-term-planning filings with the commission.

It was amending the data requirements for those reports because the 2008 regulation surrounding them were out of date. Nine years ago, the solar industry barely existed, and solar battery storage wasn’t even a serious consideration. And what energy storage technology existed wasn’t sophisticated enough and was too expensive to warrant consideration. However, new technologies are available and prices are coming down. Therefore, the NMPRC says it’s the time was right to add it to the data requirements included in the reports.

As battery storage continues its expansion, more utilities commissions will follow New Mexico’s lead. Once that happens, the market should expand exponentially.

Are batteries for solar energy storage systems ready for the mass market right now? No–but as the most recent research shows, the future maturation of the market isn’t that far into the future.

For when it does mature, solar will expand. Especially into places formerly thought unsuitable for the technology. After that, the only thing limiting solar electricity will be the imagination.


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