Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth – 173,000 terawatts of solar energy strikes the Earth continuously. That’s more than 10,000 times the world’s total energy use. The tremendous growth in the U.S. solar industry is helping to pave the way to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future. Over the past few years, the cost of a solar energy system has dropped significantly, helping to give more American families and businesses access to affordable, clean energy. However there are still many soft costs that remain a hurdle – things like permitting, zoning, and hooking a solar system up to the power grid.
But, there is a game changer in the solar arena and SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive thinks today’s rooftop solar energy systems will be out of date within five years because rooftop solar systems of the future won’t just generate electricity. They will come with sophisticated batteries that also will store it, allowing consumers to tap into the electricity their solar panels produced even when it’s dark outside. “Within five years, around that time frame, every solar system we deploy will have a storage system tied to it,” Rive said. According to Rive, adding batteries to rooftop solar energy systems has huge potential to reshape an industry that, in most places, still isn’t able to compete with the utility-generated electricity without hefty government subsidies.
Adding batteries to the solar energy system could mean that, if there is enough sunshine and the solar energy system is big enough, homeowners could be able to disconnect from the power grid entirely, or just use utility-produced electricity as a backup. The current grid connect system allows consumers to convert their energy from sunlight and use the local power grid to supply electricity needed when sunlight isn’t available, such as at night. Most states have rules that allow homeowners to sell the excess electricity generated by their rooftop solar systems back to their local utility – usually at the same price that consumers pay for the power, however many utility companies say it’s unfair to make them pay retail prices to solar energy producers when they can purchase power from the power plants at lower, wholesale prices.
Adding battery storage only makes sense to consumers if the difference between the profit they can make by selling their excess electricity to utilities during the day, when demand is higher, and the savings they can reap by storing the power in the battery system and not having to buy electricity from the utility at night, when their use is highest. If the price at which consumers can sell their surplus to utilities is high enough, it may not make sense for them to install battery storage because they can make more money by sending their excel electricity straight to the grid.
For the moment, storage is mostly a niche product – albeit a fast-growing one. The storage market grew by 40 percent last year and was valued at $128 million, according to a study earlier this year by GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association. But installations are expected to triple this year as prices come down, and by 2019, the storage market is expected to reach $1.5 billion, with almost four times more storage capacity being installed in 2019 than the report projects for this year.
- The price of solar photovoltaic panels has declined 99 percent over the last four decades, from $74 a watt in 1972 to less than 70 cents a watt in 2014. ecowatch.com
- China is now generating more electricity from wind farms than from nuclear plants, and should have no trouble meeting its official 2020 wind power goal of 200,000 megawatts. For perspective, that would be enough to satisfy the annual electricity needs of Brazil. earth-policy.org
- U.S. coal use is dropping – it fell 21 percent between 2007 and 2014 – and more than one-third of the nation’s coal plants have already closed or announced plans for future closure in the last five years. ecowatch.com
- Some 37 countries, including the U.S., have national production or investment tax credits for renewable energy. earth-policy.org
- Bike-sharing programs have sprung up worldwide in recent years. More than 800 cities in 56 countries now have fully operational bike-share programs, with over 1 million bikes. ecowatch.com
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