With wildfires increasing, along with solar mandates, power shortages and power outages, new trends in solar are emerging.
In fact, the top three trends in solar in 2022 will be power purchase agreements (PPA) that include storage, car companies’ embracing electric vehicles, and software that accelerates solar development opportunities, says Keith Cronin, co-instructor of HeatSpring’s Solar Executive MBA Training course. All of these trends are opportunities for solar contractors to boost their income.
Filling the Gap Created by Decommissioned Coal Plant
In Hawaii, for example, a 180-MW coal plant is being decommissioned, and the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission plans to provide incentives for homeowners to install batteries to help fill the energy gap. In California, many solar installers are selling solar with storage because customers want to avoid outages due to wildfires or due to utilities’ public safety power shutoffs, which are designed to ensure utility equipment doesn’t spark fires. These outages can last for days.
Simply installing solar isn’t as helpful to customers and utilities as installing solar and storage. That’s because utilities are being burdened by excess solar generation when it’s not needed. This places pressure on them to manage the non-firm resources, says Cronin.
But storage can help by storing the excess solar for use at night or on cloudy days.
Rolling Energy Storage into Solar PPAs
To help people acquire storage, solar contractors can roll energy storage into solar PPAs. These agreements generally require no up-front payments. Customers are charged monthly payments that are less than their current cost of utility power. Customers also receive the added benefit of keeping the lights on when the grid goes down, says Cronin.
A second trend is car manufacturers getting into the electric car business. In fact, some new electric vehicles are being released that have the ability to send battery energy to the grid or to homes.
Big Automakers Get into the Energy Business with Electric Vehicles
“The big three automakers are playing catch up on electrifying their products. My sense is they want to get into the storage business as well. After all, this is going to greatly benefit any home or business owner to have a mobile charging and storage platform,” he says.
This trend is important because it exemplifies the new industries springing up. Within the next three to five years, the compound annual growth rate of the storage sector alone will be ten times what it is today, Cronin says.
The Role of Software in Supporting the Grid
The third trend is the development of software that allows solar, storage and appliances to be used to help support the grid.
For decades, utilities have had programs that allow them to remotely turn off and on customers’ hot water heaters to save energy. But what’s new is software that allows smart appliances–dishwashers and clothes dryers, for example–to communicate with consumers and utilities.
Solar and storage can also help grid operators balance the grid. For example, utilities sometimes pay homeowners or businesses for allowing them to use their batteries when they’re stretched for resources.
Aggregating Batteries and Home Appliances
One company that operates in California, OhmConnect, uses software to aggregate batteries and home appliances into a virtual power plant, then sells the power into utility programs. OhmConnect pays its customers for allowing the company to participate in demand response programs under which OhmConnect controls the appliances to help cut back on energy usage during high-peak times. Batteries can also supply power to the grid.
Homeowners Reap $1 Million from Virtual Power Plant Program
Last year, during a heat wave, OhmConnect helped meet demand for electricity from the strained grid by controlling the smart devices and appliances of 150,000 residential customers, providing 1 GWh for the grid. The company paid $1 million to its homeowner customers.
“This mesh of information will allow price signals to be sent to utilities and consumers to work together to balance the grid when demand is high and generation is low. There will also be economic incentives layered into the utility bill of the future to reward certain behaviors and penalize others,” explains Cronin.
This is Where the Jobs Will Be
These three trends will create many new job opportunities for those in the solar energy business.
“You’re not just in solar; you’re in the energy business,” says Cronin. “This is where the jobs will be. Take the Solar Executive MBA class, and you can be part of the climate change solution.”
Photo by Sungrow EMEA on Unsplash