California’s recent public safety power shutoffs have sparked a sometimes desperate demand for batteries from utility customers who want backup power.
The most recent blackouts, by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., are designed to prevent utility electrical equipment from starting fires during periods of high fire danger, explains White, who was the 2014 Interstate Renewable Energy Council Trainer of the Year. He is an ISPQ Certified Solar PV Master Trainer and has written several books about solar.
These blackouts are boosting demand for energy storage, often coupled with solar. But most solar installers don’t offer storage at this time, he said.
“People are so desperate for storage. But most solar installers don’t deal with it,” he says. There aren’t enough people who know how to install energy storage, he says.
Storage Prices Heading Downward
Learning how to design and install these systems is a good idea, given that prices have dropped from about $1160 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2010 to as low as $100 per kWh manufacturing costs.
“Tesla says prices will be $90 per kWh by 2024,” he says.
The demand for backup power isn’t the only issue driving demand up and prices down for batteries.
Some businesses and consumers want to use batteries for self-consumption, which involves storing solar produced during the day for use at night, when the sun isn’t shining. This extends the number of hours in a day people can take advantage of solar energy, instead of relying on grid power at night. In this case, they don’t necessarily use the batteries for backup. In order to utilize them for backup, they must reserve some energy in the battery in the case of a power outage.
“In Hawaii, the big demand for batteries is not backup. Battery users take extra energy produced during the day and dump the energy out at night,” he explains. That’s in part due to the fact that solar producers aren’t allowed to export solar to the utility grid during the day. In Hawaii, there’s too much solar on the grid already during daytime hours.
More Hardware and Labor Required for Backup Batteries
When battery owners do decide to use batteries as backup, they generally don’t back up the whole house or business. They install a sub-panel that’s used to isolate critical loads, which might include refrigerators, for example.
However, that rewiring can sometimes take more time than installing a whole solar system, says White.
To allow for backup, battery users need multi-modal inverters that work both when connected to the electric grid and also when separated or “islanded” from the grid.
Batteries not only allow consumers to store solar at night or disconnect from the grid.
When they provide backup power, they often serve as a substitute for dirty backup generators. During events such as California’s public safety power shutoffs, consumers often buy generators that run on natural gas or diesel. Instead, they could charge batteries with solar power and use that energy as backup.
Meanwhile, solar installers who know how to install energy storage will be well positioned, says White.
“Anybody who knows how to provide batteries is going to make a huge profit, especially in California,” White says.
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