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Storage Shines in Solar Sector

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As reported by AltEnergyStocks.com, storage was clearly the primary story at the 2014 InterSolar conference, which is the most well-attended solar conference in North America. Walking through the conference there were two noticeable changes from last year: 1) the diminished presence of the major solar developers which accentuated the growing "commoditization" of the industry; and 2) the increased prominence of the energy storage companies.

It is clear that the solar industry has entered a bright new phase of solar-related storage market and application development. Its versatility and adaptability is a major factor as with the right technology, solar energy can be stored during the middle of the day and shifted for use whenever it is needed. This was understood at 2013 InterSolar. So what has changed for storage to turn a cover and play a starring role in the photovoltaic (PV) industry?

Education. The single biggest change was the significantly higher lever of technical understanding and detailed awareness of what storage can offer the PV community. This education process has been driven by the increased acknowledgement of the intermittency of solar energy which makes it a less effective source of power. At the same time the penetration of PV on the grid continues to increase -- multiplying the value of energy storage. Hence the more educated audience.

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At our booth, we had tremendous traffic as vanadium flow batteries have long held promise of long life, reliable multi-hour and multi-megawatt energy storage. But the traffic gave me two further observations: 1) there were two distinct groupings of interested attendees. One interested in participating in the macro, grid level storage/solar opportunities; and 2) those interested in the micro, here-and-now issues related to new, increased peak demand charges.

The macro group's interest stemmed from California's 2013 energy storage mandate, AB 2514, which instructed three of California's largest utilities to expand their electricity storage capacity and acquire 1.3 GW of electricity and thermal storage by 2020. This has cascaded into a number of significant programs including:

  • Hawaiian Electric Company RFP for 60 to 200 MW of energy storage systems to be in service by 2017
  • Ontario framework for 50 MW of energy storage to be included in procurement processes by the end of 2014
  • Long Island Power Authority RFI for 150 MWh of energy storage

On the micro side, there was significant interest spurred by new and increased peak charges in Northern California where the installed solar cannot help as the energy produced from the PV wanes as the peak charges begin. The interest is also spurred as California just signaled long-term support for those investing in solutions for just these types of situations. The Self-Generation Incentive Program in California was just extended for five years providing funds for behind-the-meter energy storage. This long-term commitment gives the stability for developers to seriously commit to the energy storage solution.

And in New York, ConEd and NYSERDA are introducing demand management incentives of $2,100/kW incentive for battery storage which could pay for up to half of the capital cost of energy storage solutions.

It has been estimated that within a few years, half of the solar projects will be developed to include energy storage solutions. Lux Research expects the "coupled solar and energy storage market to grow to $2.8 billion in 2018." Long-duration, intelligent energy storage solves the intermittency problem of PV by absorbing the excess generation and dispatching it when it is needed. With the right technology, solar energy can be an efficient solution from the light industry in Northern California that's suffering from peak charges today all the way up to the transmission and distribution energy grid of the future.

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