Greentech MediaJanuary 3, 202068
Predicting the future is easy; getting the exact timing is very hard — and especially with all the new solar energy technologies and requirements facing the solar panels and the solar energy storage industry.
So this year I’m giving myself a whole decade to get these behind-the-meter solar power system predictions mostly right.
Storage will be standard with solar.…
Solar panel installations will become the exception rather than the rule. Changes with net metering, unreliable utility power, lower battery costs, grid-services capabilities and energy management features will drive customers toward selecting more full-service solar energy storage offerings. By necessity, the skillset of solar installers will expand to backup solar panels and communications cable wiring, as well as complicated commissioning and configuration procedures. Timeframe: now, accelerating over the next five years.
For 20-plus years the solar power industry has been measuring costs of solar panel installations based on dollar-per-watt capacity and dollar-per-kilowatt-hour generation. But adding solar batteries to a solar power system increases the cost and confuses the energy savings calculations. I’m waiting for the gurus at NREL and LBNL to figure these new metrics out.
Cellphone apps are the standard for customer solar power system monitoring. For these apps to work, reliable solar power inverter communications to a server somewhere in the cloud is a necessity. Although Wifi, Zigbee and Bluetooth protocols are convenient and relatively cheap, they are dependent on customer’s router and internet connections — not exactly the pinnacle of reliability. Hard-wired Ethernet or high-bandwidth cellular protocols are better for the reliable communications needed for customer apps. Timeframe: now.
Experienced solar and solar energy storage installers will select solar power systems based on software capabilities: customer app, solar installer commissioning, management interface, and fleet-level/utility interface. Regardless of the caliber and capabilities of the hardware, great software is the price of admission. Timeframe: now.
Net costs going up, not down (for now)
Labor, solar power inverter and racking costs are up. Building departments are increasing solar energy storage system permitting fees and safety requirements. Building codes are more restrictive (especially for solar batteries). And customers expect additional integration work with existing electrical systems. To make matters worse, the Investment Tax Credit's phase-down will effectively increase costs by 4 percent in 2020, 4 percent in 2021 and 12 to 22 percent in 2022. Lower hardware costs will not offset these higher soft costs. Timeframe for resumed cost reductions: two years.
Unlike solar panels — which are interchangeable with virtually all solar power inverters — solar power systems will be designed and branded by the solar power inverter company. Cells may be a commodity, but the integration between the solar batteries and solar power inverters is specific to maintain warranty integrity, performance and solar panel installation ease. Contractors want one point of contact for the entire solar panels and solar energy storage system. Timeframe: now.
There is a lack of coordination between various home solar power systems (solar panels, solar energy storage, EVs, HVAC, lighting, etc.) and the major home app providers Google and Apple. Security requirements and a lack of industry standards mean that we are at least five years away from integrating these devices. Meanwhile, dedicated apps for every major device will continue to clutter our phone screens. Timeframe: 5-10 years.
The reliability and projected performance of solar power systems are well documented. However, the performance of solar energy storage systems depends on many more variables (temperature, utility rates, building consumption, battery reliability, operating characteristics), making it easier to oversell the benefits of these solar power systems — and almost impossible to predict savings. Heck, one cannot even trust the lifetime of branded batteries from Amazon.
Still waiting for the vehicle to grid (V2G)
These intuitively obvious capabilities will continue to be delayed as automakers strive to reconcile their miles-driven warranties with the extra demands of providing on-demand power to buildings. The technology is available now, but the automakers will take another 5-10 years to provide stationary power access to their batteries.
Residential solar batteries began to take off about two years ago when leading solar power inverter and battery companies released well-integrated turnkey solutions. The benefits were initially time-shifting energy use … and then the blackouts happened. The same growth will happen for C&I customers when leading solar power inverter companies to release their solar energy storage systems based on existing solar power inverters. Timeframe 1-2 years.
Solar panels, solar energy storage, and wind are near the top of the Project Drawdown list when it comes to reducing the CO2 emissions that cause global warming. I remain confident that our industry will continue to step up as the most practical, impactful and cost-effective solution to this existential problem.
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