Solar Power

Solar + storage: More than the industry’s Swiss Army knife

By Troy Miller, Director of Grid Solutions at S&C Electric Company

Efforts to introduce clean, renewable energy into our electrical grid are on the rise. Already, some cities have achieved using 100% renewable energy, and more are expected to follow by as early as 2020.

We are in an exciting time where utilities and developers alike have the opportunity to make a real and lasting impact on how our grid functions. While installing more solar will help achieve sustainability goals, there are additional ways to ensure these projects are as beneficial to the grid as possible.

There are only so many hours in a day when solar panels can produce power. While there are various methods to maximizing solar use, many are ineffective at getting the most from the sun’s energy and increasing reliability. For example, some project developers will add more solar modules to their system to try and increase capacity by taking advantage of the times of day with a less than optimal solar resource. But sometimes this is more capacity than the grid interconnect allows. Therefore, on a full sun-exposure day, the provider may need to curtail the power the solar installation is providing to the grid to avoid overloading the system interconnect.

A better way to maximize solar energy and benefit the grid is by incorporating energy storage. Solar + storage projects allow for longer periods of production. Storage avoids having to curtail PV generation by directing excess power into a battery. It can help smooth distribution to avoid oversupplying the grid during times when energy demand is low. It enables constant and reliable power, even during a grid outage. Storage + solar installations improve reliability and enable grid functions such as frequency regulation, voltage support, spinning reserve and demand response. Energy storage can do more than just capture the sun’s energy; when used together with PV, it can turn a site into a multifaceted grid asset.

I’ve often heard energy storage compared to a Swiss Army knife – it’s comprised of several add-on features which in turn provide multiple benefits; however, the tools within a Swiss Army knife, never work as well as the real thing. A real knife, a real pair of tweezers, or a real screw driver will always do a better job than the multi-tool that fits in your pocket. For me, energy storage is much more than a multi-tool or add-on feature. Energy storage solutions have many advantages and features that make all forms of generation more efficient while optimizing transmission and distribution systems worldwide. So yes, while energy storage can do a lot, unlike a Swiss Army knife, it does all of those things very well. We need to embrace these systems as viable solutions that can truly operate in conjunction with and strengthen solar development.

In the next few years, I expect to see the number of solar + storage sites soar. The combination of solar + storage is becoming close to parity with traditional forms of generation. This is especially true in the Northeast, island communities and parts of California.

Solar + storage is no longer a lofty goal for projects of the future; it’s close to becoming the standard, and we need to be open to embracing it.

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