If you’re new to the solar industry, you should keep an eye on three trends, says Sean White, instructor of HeatSpring’s 58-hour NABCEP Advanced Solar PV Training Series.
With prices of solar and energy storage dropping, it’s easy to get caught up in hype, or confused by ever-changing regulations, he says. In his course, White alerts students to what’s new and what’s ever-changing in the industry, and gives students perspective about these trends.
White’s viewpoint is broad; he travels internationally to teach and train engineers, installers, utilities and business people in the industry. Recently, he trained utility members in Dubai, and taught a cellphone company in Pakistan how to install solar-powered cell towers. In India, he helped engineers who want to get into the solar business, for example. He has also worked recently in China, the Philippines and Hawaii, as well as in the US.
Keeping an Eye on Net Metering
The international expert suggests keeping an eye on ever-changing net metering laws. In the past, with net metering, a solar producer’s utility meter ran backward when the producer sent excess solar to the grid. But in some areas, compensation for solar producers is dropping.
“They’re changing the rules so you don’t get as much,” says White, who was the Interstate Renewable Energy Council Trainer of the Year in 2014. He is an ISPQ Certified Solar PV Master Trainer and the author of numerous books about solar energy.
“You used to get the same amount for importing as exporting,” he says. “With more solar on the grid, they’re paying less money for taking the solar. You buy for one price and sell it for another,” he says. In the Philippines, for example, producers buy energy at 25 cents/kWh and sell to the utility at 12 cents/kWh, he says.
Energy Storage a Growing Trend
Some people may choose to purchase energy storage systems to store solar and release it at night instead of sending excess solar to the grid. But in some cases, net metering is greener, says White.
“Batteries are not perfectly efficient; you often lose 20 percent,” he says. If the excess solar goes instead to the grid, it’s 100 percent efficient, he adds.
In spite of this drawback, it’s important to keep an eye on the energy storage industry, he says.
“The energy storage industry is growing quickly, but in some areas, we’re not there yet,” says White. “I think we will get there soon; prices of batteries are going down like crazy. Once production catches up with demand, things will change.” Robust demand is keeping prices high, White says. For example, due to demand, it’s hard to buy a Tesla Powerwall, a home battery system, he says.
In some areas of the world, however, energy storage makes sense. For example, Tesla installed Powerwalls in a group of Australian homes.
“In Australia, they need energy storage more because there’s more solar per capita. There they pay better. As solar saturates, we’ll need more batteries,” White says.
Microgrids Keep the Lights on During Power Outages
Microgrids–which often combine solar with storage–are a growing trend, due to the prevalence of fires and other natural disasters that spur power outages, says White.
“If there’s a wind storm, microgrids disconnect from the utility and have their own grid,” says White. This keeps the power on, often for critical services such as hospitals and fire stations.
In White’s “Solar PV Installer Boot Camp” course, he’ll provide more information about these and other trends. He’ll also help students prepare for the NABCEP PV Associate exam.
As always, students will benefit from White’s accessible style, sense of humor and unique perspective as a globe-trotting teacher, trainer, author and expert.