SOLAR POWER : Storage Solutions

STORAGE SOLUTIONS: Making the sun shine all day!

But the sun does not shine all day!


Okay, you have been running your solar power system for a while and have saved a ton on your power bills. The incentives are just icing on the cake. What if I tell you that exciting new developments in the solar power industry can reshape how we access power?

Sounds interesting? Not really. For us regular folks, it doesn’t mean much when things are presented that way. But what if I tell you, that these emerging technologies have the potential to enable your solar power system to save you more money.

Yep, now that sounds interesting.

Okay. The problem with solar power is that it’s not consistently available all the time. The sun doesn’t shine at night and when it’s cloudy your system probably does not generate as much juice as when it is sunny. This problem, folks, is what the solar industry refers to as intermittency. It’s a fancy term, but basically it means that the sun doesn’t shine all the time.

solar panels

Most installed solar power systems generate power that is consumed the moment it is generated (even grid power is this way too). What isn’t used up at the generation source (e.g. your house) gets fed back into the grid (and supposedly you get incentives for that). When the sun doesn’t shine (like at night, duh), your solar power system doesn’t do much (probably goes to the local starbucks to get a mocha frap and lounge around).

Used to be, with the great incentive schemes for solar power installations, we were pretty ok with the “sun not shining at night”. Recent changes in the incentive scheme is seeing more and more installations with a storage component allowing households to use stored solar power even at night.

And when it comes to solar power, the more you consume of it, the more you save money. Solar storage solutions allow you to consume more of that power even when the sun is at starbucks enjoying its mocha frap.

We used to use lead acid batteries to store solar power. And some still do. However, technology over the years has developed new and better storage solutions. Newer, more sophisticated solutions that include management systems to prioritize consumption from onsite sources before they access the grid. The more complex systems even access and store power from the grid during off-peak hours (when it’s cheaper) so that you can use it during peak hours (when electricity is expensive).

So why isn’t everybody on the bandwagon? What’s the catch?

Well, the available technologies right now are really expensive. However, the trend is going much like the way PV panels went. With more companies engaged in research and development, prices are going down and the capacity and intelligence of these “batteries” are going up.

Trends in storage solutions show two parallel paths (that might converge in the future). Large scale, utility-level, or whole-grid level storage solutions such as the liquid-metal battery technology pioneered by Dr. Donald Sadoway of MIT looks to change the way the entire power grid works and how consumers access it.

On the smaller scale, the recent introduction of Tesla’s Powerwall is providing momentum for developing scalable products at lower costs and cheaper price points.

With the drive towards better and cheaper storage solutions, the power industry seems to be headed for a game change. At the small scale, like us regular folks, storage solutions are a no-brainer although, right now they are a “pocket drainer”.

Oh and yes, there will soon be a time when the sun will shine at night – with batteries included of course.