Solar Power and Energy Storage: Pairing Technologies Vital to Our Future

As the world’s electricity demand grows, it’s imperative that we cut polluting emissions. Solar electricity is meeting an increasingly-significant percentage of global energy demand. Smart, consistent long-term solar policies, such as the investment tax credit (ITC) and renewable portfolio standards, and industry innovations in technology and financing, have made solar a bright spot in our economy. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) forecasts that 5.2 gigawatts of new solar electric capacity will come online in 2013. Our industry stands ready to accelerate solar deployment, producing many gigawatts of clean, emissions-free electricity.

As solar deployment increases, SEIA is focused on accelerating renewable energy generation without sacrificing reliability.  Energy professionals, business leaders, policymakers — and the public — view storage as a crucial technology that complements solar.  Advancing energy storage is vital to our mission of ensuring that renewables become an increasingly mainstream source of our world’s power supply.  Solar professionals are excited about tremendous innovations in this realm.

Universities, scientists, inventors, investors, engineers, and entrepreneurs are engaged in advancing storage technologies that will revolutionize our world.  An IMS Research report forecast that the market for storing power generated by solar will soar — from approximately $200 million in 2012 to $19 billion by 2017.

Catastrophic events such as Superstorm Sandy have shown that lives can be lost, homes and businesses damaged and destroyed, and entire regions crippled by natural disasters.  Pairing emissions-free solar with energy storage / back-up generation will make our grid more resilient and our nation — and the planet — healthier and more secure.   
Several battery chemistries are being pursued: advanced lead acid, lithium-ion, flow, liquid-metal, sodium-ion, sodium-sulfur, vanadium redox, nickel-metal, etc.  They’ve targeted applications and unique benefits.

Several solar companies are already integrating energy storage in their deployments — in utility-scale, distributed generation and residential projects.  Molten-salt batteries used in several utility-scale concentrated solar power (CSP) plants help provide uninterrupted electricity — producing power at night.

Microgrids incorporating solar arrays are in operation at mission-critical government and community facilities.  The U.S. military is developing microgrids on bases (e.g., at Fort Detrick) to provide critical power in the event of outages.  Backup storage is being paired with solar installed at homes and businesses; additional pilot projects are underway.  

Several companies are developing sophisticated hybrid solar / storage systems, including portable solar generators that provide power when disaster strikes.  These include fully-integrated battery back-up systems enabling customers to send excess energy back to the grid for credit, while battery storage provides backup electricity — operating independently of the grid during power outages.
SEIA and the Electricity Storage Association (ESA) have formed a new partnership to expand the use of solar and renewables, while accelerating grid-scale storage systems across the country.  We’re focused on modernizing the grid, making it more balanced, efficient, clean, reliable and cost-effective.  At present, we’re working collaboratively with ESA on the Energy Storage Investment Tax Credit gaining support in Congress.

There are 8,500 megawatts (MW) of cumulative solar electric capacity installed in the U.S. —  enough to power more than 1.3 million homes.   In the first quarter of 2013, more than 48 percent all new electricity added to the grid was solar.  America’s solar industry now employs nearly 120,000 workers at 5,600 companies, mostly small businesses spread across every state.

Energy storage capacity is growing at a similarly quick pace; it already accounts for 24,000 MWh (mostly pumped hydroelectricity) in nearly every state. With outages from unreliable portions of our grid costing Americans $130 billion annually, increasingly leaders are turning to storage.  By 2017, grid-scale energy storage will reach an astounding 185.4 GWh, a $113.5 billion revenue opportunity for an industry that currently generates sales of $50 billion a year.

Our electrical grid functions much the same way as it did a century ago.  It’s ripe for innovation.  Solar and energy storage technologies offer vast improvements.  Many initiatives are underway to improve the reliability, capacity, safety and cost of batteries / energy storage technologies, making them more useful in a wide variety applications.  Energy storage, paired with renewables, will make the grid more robust, reliable, resilient and secure — delivering tremendous environmental and health benefits. The increased deployment of these technologies, in tandem, will further solidify solar and other renewable technologies as increasingly mainstream resource in our nation’s energy portfolio, and help ensure an uninterrupted supply of electricity.

This is shaping up to be another exciting year for solar as it continues its growth trajectory as one of the largest new sources of energy, as well as one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S.  Thankfully, we’re seeing the accelerated adoption of renewable resources and energy storage. This transition to renewable resources is crucial — for our planet’s sake as well as that of future generations.
Once we’ve perfected the pairing of solar with energy storage — from residential through utility-scale deployment — the possibilities are truly limitless.

Read more solar energy news here.

Lead image: Hiking shoes via Shutterstock

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Rhone Resch is the President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the national trade association for the solar energy industry representing over 1,000 companies that manufacture, develop and install solar systems of all sizes and technologies. At SEIA, Rhone is responsible for leading the growth of the industry by expanding markets, removing market barriers, strengthening R&D and educating the public. SEIA’s recent legislative successes include the 8-year extension and expansion of the investment tax credits for solar, creation of the Treasury grant program and the section 48C manufacturing tax credit, and expansion of the loan guarantee program for renewable energy. In the regulatory arena, Rhone recently led the industry through an adverse customs ruling eventually overturning the tariff, saving the industry several hundred million dollars. He has over 18 years of experience in the public and private sector working in clean energy development and climate change issues. In addition to serving as the Vice President for the Natural Gas Supply Association, Rhone has also served as Program Manager at the EPA's Climate Protection Division during the Clinton administration. Rhone holds an MPA in Management from Syracuse University's Maxwell School, a Master of Environmental Engineering from SUNY Syracuse, and a B.A. from the University of Michigan. He lives with his wife Lisa and two children in a solar-powered home in Washington, D.C.

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