By now most of you have likely heard about solar energy. Solar power is all the buzz in new energy generation, and with good reason. Solar has the potential to completely transform the way we receive and think about energy.
With solar currently generating around 2% of electricity in the United States, solar still has a mountain to climb before it becomes a major source of electricity in the United States.
The question then becomes, what are the hurdles that solar will need to clear in order to make it our main source of energy generation in the future?
The long term future of solar will be heavily reliant on energy storage and energy optimization. On the surface it may seem that the biggest factor to the mass adoption of solar would be the decreasing the cost of solar panels.
All though in the near future this will be the main driver of solar adoption, problems will eventually arise with grid load during peak hours that could slow down the adoption of solar if they aren’t solved.
In markets like California, we are already beginning to witness what is know as the duck curve. The duck curve is essentially a visual representation of how energy is consumed during a day. Power consumption peaks in the mornings, drops off during the middle hours of the day, and then has its biggest peak in the evening hours.
This is a problem because most solar energy is being produced during the time of day that people consume the least amount of power. This causes the grid to become get loaded with energy that has no place to go.
Energy production then needs to be ramped up during the evening hours to meet energy needs. This causes a lot of strain on the grid and will be one of the biggest challenges for solar to overcome. The most likely solution will be energy storage.
Storing energy with batteries has the potential to solve the duck curve problem. Instead of having solar energy sent to the grid during the middle of the day, it could be sent to batteries that would be charged. Then during peak hours, instead of relying on generating more energy to meet the demand, you could use the stored energy to power homes.
Why aren’t we doing this already? We are starting to see energy storage solutions getting adopted by some utilities, but at small scales. The major drawbacks to storage options currently are price and capacity. This is the same problem that solar panels faced 10 years ago. Like all technologies though, with time battery systems will improve and become cheaper.
We are already starting to see companies like Tesla, LG, and Panasonic making big investments into developing their battery technologies. Tesla and Panasonic most notably have partnered to develop the Gigafactory in Nevada. The aim of the Gigafactory is to double the world supply of lithium-ion battery. While the Gigafactory is aimed at producing batteries for Tesla’s automobiles, batteries will also be made for Tesla’s Powerwall(energy storage) as well.
In the part 1, we briefly explored the idea of micro-grids and how they could be the future of electricity distribution. In order to create a micro-grid however you must have a system for storing electricity.
What if you want to get a battery backup system setup today with your solar array? It is completely possible to set up a solar array with a battery backup system today. The cost of batteries are a still high compared to where they need to be for mass adoption but they have already come down considerably. If you want to go completely off-grid it is possible today.
Something to keep in mind when installing solar is to make sure that your system can be easily adapted to run to a battery backup in the future. While most system can be adapted to run to a battery, you can lose efficiency by needing to set up separate inverters.
The future of solar is exciting. We live at a point in time where we are seeing the beginnings of a technology that could change the course of human history. Solar has the potential to drastically change our electrical grid and our lives. The future involves solar power, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.