In the renewables sector the ultimate goal has always been self-reliance. The idea of homes and businesses using purely renewable forms of energy is what the entire industry is working towards – a carbon-free future.
For years, this has been little more than a pipe-dream, a utopic conception of ideal modern living. There’s a reason why the green idea of ‘doing your bit for the environment’ exists. We know the industry can’t expect people to completely abandon traditional energy sources and go green just like that.
It’s a bit here and a bit there – modest, everyday efforts that, in the bigger picture. These efforts count for something.
In the past few years, though, technology has emerged to bring the solar industry closer to realising its dream of self-reliance. How? Battery storage: everyone from Tesla to Duracell is throwing their hat in the ring and has hit the market with a range of innovative products.
It signals a shift in approach for the solar industry. It’s a time of opportunity, and here’s why.
Sky-high demand for solar energy.
There is a demand for solar power in today’s energy market.
It’s on the rise: a recent survey commissioned by environmental law group ClientEarth. This survey shows that 71 percent of the UK’s general public would be interested in joining a community energy scheme but they want more support and guidance from the government. A further 62 percent would be keen to have solar panels installed onto their properties, and 60 percent express interest in battery storage. In other words, the UK is full of households that would gladly “go green” if they received more support from the powers that be.
This demand reflects a growing popularity for solar, and renewables.
The ‘battery-storage boom’ is responsible for a large chunk of this growth. Speaking about the Bloomberg report, Seb Henbest – Head of Europe, Middle East and Africa for BNEF – said, “We see $548 billion being invested in battery capacity by 2050, two-thirds of that at the grid level, and one-third installed behind-the-meter by households and businesses.
“The arrival of cheap battery storage will mean that it becomes increasingly possible to finesse the delivery of electricity from wind and solar, so that these technologies can help meet demand even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. The result will be renewables eating up more and more of the existing market for coal, gas and nuclear.”
Herein lies the vital solution.
When the sun goes down, those with solar panels won’t have to rely on the National Grid for their nighttime electricity. Instead, they can be fully self-reliant because they will have stored surplus energy throughout the day.
Battery storage across the world.
The battery-storage boom is shaking up solar energy on a worldwide scale. Across diverse economies, solar batteries have become a far more viable choice than when they were first pioneered by a handful of high-price market-dominators (Tesla being one of them).
They’re now cheaper and are provided by recognized household brands at a time when more people want to go green than ever before. Most persons are willing to wriggle out of the grasp that fossil fuels and the “Big 6” energy providers have maintained for so long.
Here’s what battery storage is doing for some of the world’s biggest renewable markets:
Solar energy and battery storage in the UK
The Feed-in Tariff – pioneered by Germany is a way to incentivize homeowners to switch to solar energy. This has been in return for regular payments made for the solar energy that they generate. This process is set to end in the UK. Come March 2019 there will be no incentive scheme and no similar replacement.
Fortunately, existing Feed-in Tariff customers will continue to receive their payments as normal. What the UK will not have, however, is an incentive scheme as successful as its Feed-in Tariff has been.
The argument of the UK government is one which recognizes the scheme’s success – which has delivered over 800,000 solar installations over a relatively short eight-year period. The UK government is saying that such a generous subsidy is no longer needed in the UK.
The official consultation states the following:
“Our energy system is changing; technologies such as storage are expected to play an increasingly important role and government seeks to move away from driving deployment with direct subsidies. “It is our view that the current FITs [sic] flat rate export tariff does not align with our vision for the future, given our desire to move towards fairer, cost reflective pricing and the continued drive to minimise support costs on consumers, as well as supporting the vision set out in the Industrial Strategy and Clean Growth Strategy published last year.”
The consultation is right on one thing, at least. Battery storage is the UK’s answer to the end of the Feed-in Tariff, allowing homeowners and business to use solar energy 24/7 so that National Grid prices can be avoided.
Solar energy and battery storage in Africa.
Perhaps not the first location that springs to mind, but solar energy is gathering momentum in developing nations across Africa (as well as others across central and southeastern regions of Asia). Although solar energy has huge potential for mass application across uninhabited desert regions of Africa (residential areas too), battery storage has long been too expensive and impractical for use.
Until very recently, that is. The World Bank has announced plans to invest $1 billion to boost developing countries’ energy-storage capacity from 4.5 gigawatt hours to a huge 17.5. The initial $1 billion investment will be bolstered by a further $4 billion. Africa is said to benefit the most from the battery boom, with vast swathes of land currently unoccupied.
Riccardo Puliti, Head of Energy Practice at the World Bank, said:
“We want to develop the market for batteries in developing countries. Storage has a great future.” The vision for Africa’s solar future will be centered around batteries that are both affordable and adaptable to village life. These batteries are capable of lasting seven or eight hours at night, and they are resistant to extreme temperatures with next to no maintenance required.
Here’s what the President of World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, had to say:
“Battery storage can help countries leapfrog to the next generation of power generation technology, expand energy access, and set the stage for much cleaner, more stable, energy systems.” So we know these batteries are helping underdeveloped countries. Solar batteries are ushering in a new era for solar energy in the United States, where lithium-ion batteries have long held sway. New technologies look to replace lithium-ion batteries with a safer, more affordable alternative.
Solar energy and battery storage in the USA.
In the United States, lithium-ion batteries have long been used to power electric cars as well as solar batteries. Their drawbacks have become increasingly clear over that time: they use scarce minerals, they’re vulnerable to fires and explosions, and they’re incredibly expensive.
Last month, an energy company run by California billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong unveiled its latest innovation. They have come up with a rechargeable solar battery that operates on both zinc and air. The new batteries are said to store power much more cheaply than the current lithium-ion products.
The new products have already been tested in Africa and Asia, and have even powered the majority of America’s cell-phone towers for the last six years.
This has been without any support from the traditional grid system. According to Soon-Shiong:
“It could change and create completely new economies using purely the power of the sun, wind and air.”
It’s clear that more people across the world are looking for ways to be fully reliant on solar energy. With the solar-battery boom, we are getting closer to this being a reality. As battery storage becomes more affordable, we can expect to see more homes and businesses getting involved. It’s an exciting time for the renewable sector, which seems to be seizing the moment with both hands.