Solar-Plus-Storage Will Begin to Make Big Inroads in 2020

PV MagazineDecember 31, 2019818


In the U.S. particularly, solar-plus-storage projects may even shoulder aside gas peaking plants as the method of choice for backing up the security of electricity supply. If the industry body the U.S. Energy Storage Association can persuade Congress to legislate an Investment Tax Credit dedicated to a solar power system with battery storage this year, the technology really could go off like a rocket in the new year.

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Energy storage is all set to really come of age in 2020 – and yes, we know you have heard that many times before but utility scale storage projects are mushrooming around the world and solar-plus-storage appears set to flex its grid balancing muscles in the U.S. and Australia in the next 12 months.

In the U.S. particularly, solar-plus-storage projects may even shoulder aside gas peaking plants as the method of choice for backing up security of electricity supply. As Steve Fludder, CEO of the NEC Energy Solutions business of Japanese conglomerate NEC told pv magazine: “Lithium-ion batteries can pull megawatt hours onto the grid in milliseconds, matching supply to demand in real time.” And it will continue to be lithium-ion based storage which dominates, despite concerns associated with the environmental and social damage associated with sourcing lithium.

If industry body the U.S. Energy Storage Association can persuade Congress to legislate an Investment Tax Credit dedicated to a solar power system with battery storage this year, the technology really could go off like a rocket in the new year.

Plenty in store for batteries

In Australia, demand for large scale energy storage shows little sign of abating despite the ambivalence of the government to the climate crisis. The ageing, under-invested electricity transmission infrastructure which represents such a hurdle to the deployment of new solar power generation capacity appears to be offering an opportunity to storage, with some out-of-the-way farmsteads already being supported by solar-plus-storage rather than costly new electricity poles.

Solar power systems with battery storage could also be set to surprise a few analysts by gaining traction in emerging solar power markets, although significant hurdles remain in cost-sensitive markets such as India, despite the hope being placed in a 1 GW Solar Energy Corporation of India tender which will require at least half that generation capacity to be backed up by solar batteries. As Atin Jain, of market intelligence firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance pointed out: “Expensive economics of storage, [the] technical complexities of the tender, land acquisition challenges and [an] inability of IPPs [independent power producers] to secure competitive debt and equity can impact this tender. But we believe that this tender is a first step towards achieving dispatchable renewables in India.”

Price falls in the solar batteries sector, as in all other new technologies, are critical for widespread adoption and soaring demand for lithium driven by the anticipated growing demand for electric vehicles – as well as grid-scale storage – may actually apply the brakes to the rapid savings which have been achieved this year.

Bifacial prospects

Opinions are divided over the rate at which bifacial solar panels will continue to displace traditional, single-sided solar panels this year, thanks largely to uncertainty over whether the exemption of bifacial solar panels from Section 201 import tariffs in the U.S. will be lifted or not.

An investigation is currently under way and, as PV InfoLink analyst Corinne Lin has told pv magazine, the analyst revised down its 2020 outlook for bifacial deployment volumes as a result, to 12 GW of new capacity worldwide. The analyst pointed out demand remains healthy for bifacial solar panels in emerging markets including Egypt, Mexico, Brazil, El Salvador, Chile, the UAE, Oman, Pakistan, Israel, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Russia, as well as Spain and the U.K.

That is something BloombergNEF’s Jenny Chase can agree on, as she predicted bifacial modules will contribute up to 40% of utility scale solar panels in the world’s hottest markets in 2020 for a total volume of 20-29 GW en route to almost total domination by the mid-2020s.

Manufacturers in for a rough ride

Chase also predicted a tough year for some of the world’s solar panel manufacturers – excluding polysilicon producers – and suggested even some of the top ten brands could be forced out of the PV solar energy market in 2020 by wafer-thin margins and the continuing squeeze on subsidies in China.

In terms of hard numbers, the world could see as much as 135 GW of new solar power capacity rolled out over the next 12 months with India anticipating at least 10 GW thanks to 7 GW of projects tendered this year and another 5 GW of procurement rounds already in the pipeline. Solar power and renewable energy bodies Enerplan and SER predict France could see 1.5 GW of new solar in 2020, to hit 11.4 GW of cumulative capacity. Perennial favorite Germany could see at least another 4 GW – the figure likely to have been added this year – provided the government finally makes good on its promise to remove the 52 GW cap which would cancel subsidies for solar power systems with a capacity of up to 750 kW. If the cap stays in place, however, the first half of the new year could see a rush to install solar energy projects before a collapse in new additions.

One market widely expected to see new solar panel installation figures retreat is Australia, where prime minister Scott Morrison appears content to fiddle with coal while Sydney burns. The lack of any solar policy now the 2020 Renewable Energy Target has been passed could see new installs fall from the 4 GW expected to have been added this year to around 2.5 GW in 2020. Most of that new capacity is set to be made up of 2019 solar panel installation projects delayed by excessive hurdles thrown up in front of renewable developers by the Australian Energy Market Operator but at least the rooftop solar panel installation market remains in rude good health.

Policy questions

Alongside solar energy superpowers China and the U.S., keep an eye on a resurgent Spain as well as South Korea and Taiwan in the 12 months ahead, although Bloomberg NEF’s Chase predicts the elusive solar energy revolution in Africa will continue to be dogged by project delays, with auctions set to secure solar power for around $40/MWh or so.

The lack of policy support for solar power Down Under hints at the critical role legislation continues to play in the battle against climate catastrophe and all eyes will be on Europe in the short-term to see whether new commission president Ursula von der Leyen can steer through her Green Deal for Europe without it being significantly watered down by naysayers in Hungary and Czechia as well as, infuriatingly, departing member Britain.

The big election date will come in November, of course, and could have a signal effect on the course of the U.S. energy transition.

Sustainable solutions

The next 12 months is likely to see the EU attempt to persuade China to ramp up decarbonization of a solar power system which still relies far too heavily on coal although politicians may have to offer up tangible incentives to Chinese entities on their own shores to do so and that could cause conflict with domestic manufacturers keen to take a lead in sustainable production. Meanwhile, the petro-states in the Middle East are likely to offer ready-made markets for big volumes of cheap, coal-fired Chinese solar panels as they attempt to burnish a global image which continues to be tarnished by several issues, not least a perceived unwillingness to surrender the grip on power which oil and gas have given them.

Throw in the rising application of artificial intelligence to the way grids operate and energy is traded, wider deployment of green hydrogen projects and the much more common development of co-located solar, wind and storage facilities and there appears to be plenty to get excited about in the solar world next year – and we haven’t even mentioned perovskites!

Happy new year folks, it appears there will be plenty more to look forward to in the 12 months ahead.

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