4 causes residential solar + storage installations are surging within the U.S.
Until recently, most Solar + storage systems were inaccessible to the average homeowner. This was initially because solar systems were expensive despite the US government’s Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Then, when solar prices fell thanks to cheaper imported panels, the sticking point became energy storage applications and prices. But in 2020 and beyond, solar and storage in the United States are growing rapidly, and it’s fair to ask: what’s causing the segment’s exponential growth?
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There are four main reasons why private consumers are choosing to install more and more Solar + storage systems: regional grid instability, service life (TOU), better battery chemistry and ease of installation. Let’s examine each of these reasons and how each of these factors will affect the market in the future.
As climate change has an increasing impact on weather conditions, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how unstable the power grid is – and it doesn’t matter where you are in your country. While California is the obvious example, as forest fires seem to get out of hand every year, it’s not just the West Coast that is affected.
In other states, strong winds, severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes are increasing in frequency and intensity. With a power grid designed in the 19th and early 20th centuries with above-ground wires that remain vulnerable to external factors, consumers feel uncomfortable because of this instability in their power supply.
Solar + storage helps solve some of these problems. Since the electricity is generated on-site rather than from a central location, it is less likely to be damaged by severe weather. In addition, the storage component offers greater reliability. This allows consumers to keep their lights and protected loads switched on even if the power grid fails.
More states than ever are moving towards California Time of Use (TOU) rates, which are encouraging consumers to shift their energy use to times when there is less demand on the grid. The aim is to shift usage from so-called peak times to off-peak times, with usage rates being correspondingly lower outside of peak times.
With Solar + Storage, consumers can store electricity from their solar panels when prices are lower (e.g. in the middle of the day) and discharged for personal use on household loads when prices are higher in the late afternoon / early evening. This lowers the homeowner’s bill because he does not need electricity from the grid during times of high usage and high rates.
Better battery chemistry
In the past, Solar + storage systems were mainly dependent on lead-acid or lithium-ion batteries. Both types of batteries have their own challenges, including the use of sometimes toxic metals (in the case of lead-acid) or due to their chemistry (as in the case of lithium-ion) they may have a thermal event.
Recently, however, there has been a switch to lithium ferrophosphate (or iron phosphate) (LFP) batteries. Due to the metals used, the battery chemistry is less toxic and thermally and chemically more stable than other lithium ion chemistries. They offer the same constant discharge voltage (e.g. 3.2 V during discharge until the cell runs out of power), which means that it can deliver practically full power during the entire discharge process. High-current LFP cells also last longer than traditional lithium-ion batteries because they have a slower capacity loss.
As a result, homeowners are increasingly feeling comfortable with LFP technology and more willing to install it in their homes. As prices continue to fall, the transition to this technology in residential complexes will increase. There are some reputable energy storage companies that use these chemistries, such as Enphase Energy, Sonnen, and Blue Ion Energy, to name a few.
Finally, the simple fact that batteries are easier to install has also contributed to the expansion of the residential solar and storage storage market. Rather than requiring a complicated installation process, most battery manufacturers have made their devices virtually plug-and-play.
In practical terms, this means that the total cost of installation has decreased and it is much easier for consumers who installed solar systems years ago to easily upgrade their systems. It is expected that the vast majority of solar systems will either be built new with storage or upgraded within the next decade.
Although the systems are often plug-and-play, that does not mean that the development of a home system is irrelevant. To this end, it is important to understand what characteristics the most effective engineering firms and national / regional distributors have in their arsenal before hiring them.
For example, companies should be able to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the challenges homeowners face when installing Solar + storage systems. You should be familiar with the full range of systems available and be able to recommend which system is best for a particular application. Second, it’s important that companies can work quickly and efficiently to put systems together – companies that are able to produce systems within acceptable timeframes and that can easily work with installers to ensure projects are on time and in time Be carried out within the budget. Finally, engineering teams with specific teams who specialize in specific systems provide the right technical support to ensure that the Solar + storage installations are running smoothly.
In the end, more and more homeowners are realizing that a Solar + storage system is the best possible solution for grid instability and the increasing prevalence of TOU rates. With increasing spread, technical services are also in demand to support them.
Terance Harper, MS, NABCEP is Utility Scale Solar Engineer, Illumine-i.