With a booming market, evolving technology and ever- changing incentive programs, energy storage is the Wild West of the solar business right now, says Wes Kennedy, an application engineering manager and instructor for HeatSpring’s “Comprehensive Solar Plus Storage” course.
“People need to learn about what makes a successful storage project regardless of policy issues,” he says.
To launch that learning process, you can begin by getting a feel for just how quickly the market is growing now—and why.
In the US, the energy storage market is expected to grow exponentially in the next five years, from last year’s 281 megawatts deployed to 2 gigawatts in 2021, he says.
The residential segment is expected to make up about 30% of this deployment. And growth is projected to continue because storage will play a vital role in helping battle climate change and decarbonize our economy.
“I think the big driver for storage–and why I’m in it–is all about climate change and decarbonizing our economy. You can only put a certain amount of intermittent renewables on the grid. Storage is the vital element that gets us to 100 percent renewable energy,” says Kennedy.
Like Kennedy, more and more consumers and industries are concerned about climate change. They say they want to take control of their energy use and employ renewable resources and energy storage.
A recent study by the consulting firm Deloitte found that 63 percent of residential consumers were very concerned about climate change and their personal carbon footprints. In fact, using clean energy sources was the most important energy issue among consumers who participated in the study, with 37 percent citing “increasing the use of solar power” as the top issue.
In addition, many other markets continue to grow. Commercial building owners are purchasing energy storage to offset peak electricity rates, allowing them to use battery backup instead of paying exorbitant prices for peak power.
Potential customers also want backup power for their homes and businesses. This is especially true on the eastern seaboard and in coastal regions, which are experiencing more frequent and devastating hurricanes, tornados and floods. In fact, energy for disaster readiness is a growing market of its own. It includes people who are building post-apocalypse style dwellings because they fear a global catastrophe, says Kennedy.
In addition to comprehending what’s driving the energy storage market, it’s important to acquaint yourself with the wide array of battery types available for solar-plus-storage projects.
Globally, battery energy storage is a rapidly growing field, because batteries themselves are the most up-to-date technology in the energy storage business, Kennedy says.
Compared to other options, batteries are modular, responsive, clean and quiet, with low maintenance and scalable production.
Lead-acid batteries are the standard for residential and small- scale projects. Because they are relatively inexpensive and modular, they have been the go-to battery for decades for homes and cars.
Flow batteries have an added benefit: They can decouple power from energy. They also boast a very long cycle life, and offer a roadmap to the least expensive energy storage–less than $200/kWh, says Kennedy.
Sodium-sulfur batteries (NaS) are large, high-temperature batteries used for smoothing with wind farms, energy shifting and other needs. They operate at a medium-low cost, says Kennedy. Sodium-Nickel-Chloride (NaNiCl) batteries are high-temperature batteries that cost slightly more than sodium-sulfer. They are more stable than sodium-sulfur and are developed for mobile applications.
Lithium-ion batteries are the “darling” of the battery world, and are used in phones and almost all portable electronics. They’re growing in popularity for larger applications, such as electric vehicles and aerospace applications. The life of lithium- ion batteries is extremely long, and the main downside historically has been the cost, which averages around $1,000-$2,500 per kWh. However, the cost is dropping; Tesla claims its Powerwall will cost only $300 per kWh or so.
If Tesla can deliver on this claim, we’ll see huge growth in lithium-ion battery storage, and it will likely become the battery of choice for personal solar storage. While lithium-ion batteries have a reputation for being fire hazards, their safety is improving. The newest lithium-ion batteries have begun passing safety standards for the first time. This allows these batteries to expand into uses in schools, multi-family residences, and military applications.
For example, Demand Energy has begun constructing a microgrid with a 400-kW solar setup and a 400-kW fuel cell supported by a 1.2-MWh lithium-ion battery. This was the first lithium-ion battery approved for behind-the-meter use in a multi-family residential building, according to a Utility Dive article.
Equipped with knowledge about the booming market and the different types of batteries available to serve that market, you need to educate yourself about one more factor: incentive programs from utilities and governments.
You can learn about which utilities and states provide incentives to support renewable energy and storage by visiting https://dsireusa.org
The largest incentive program is California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. California regulators recently doubled incentives for SGIP, giving the lion’s share to energy storage funding.
California homeowners are eligible for up to $400-per- kWh incentives for home batteries, which covers much of the battery costs.
Here’s a small-scale example of SGIP’s benefits from energysage.com: Customers of utilities that qualify for the SGIP program can purchase a 13.2-kWh capacity, second-generation Tesla Powerwall, and the first 10 kWh would receive a $400/kWh incentive, with the remaining 3.2 kWh eligible for a $200/kWh incentive. That’s worth a total of $4,640 out of the $5,500 cost of the system. And the homeowner can pile on federal tax credits to those incentives.
Incentive values under SGIP change as additional energy storage projects are installed. You can check them here: https://www.selfgenca.com/home/program_metrics/.
Hawaii also offers compelling incentives designed to combat climate change and help residents find alternatives to expensive electricity from utilities.
For example, SimpliPhi Power, an energy storage company, partnered with Ameresco Solar and Haleakala Solar to bring solar-powered air conditioning units running on SimpliPhi’s lithium-ion batteries to Waialua High School on the island of Oahu. The project was funded by the Hawaii statewide Heat Abatement Program, which provides schools cooling options for students in overheated classrooms.
These are just two examples; it’s important to investigate incentive programs in your area to determine which will best meet the needs of your potential customers.
“There’s no nice comprehensive list of how to make money in storage,” says Kennedy. “But you can identify a niche and go after it.”