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May 2015

SOLAR BATTERIES – RE-EMERGING STRONGER THAN BEFORE

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Written by Nani Pradeepan, P.Eng.

In the mid-1990s solar PV had only one integration option that is with batteries. At that time very little support from governments, the off-grid (not connected to an electric grid) market was the dominant driver of solar business globally. Then solar PV was paired with lead-acid batteries and sold to people who had no other choice for electricity; even today this is the option for most of remote regions around the world.

California offered some of the first incentives for solar systems connected to utility grid in 1996. At that time frame, Germany and Japan also beefed up promotion laws, creating a strong burst of activity for the grid-tied solar (connected to an electric grid) market globally.

In 1997, nearly two-thirds of worldwide solar deployment was off-grid. Three years later, around 2000 grid-tied installations outpaced off-grid installations globally for the first time.

Over the last decade and a half, battery storage went from being the core enabler of solar PV to a marginal technology. Battery-based systems now only represent around one percent of yearly solar installations throughout the world.

But the industry is getting back to those roots and embracing storage once again. As lithium-ion batteries get cheaper and more abundant attention has turned back to batteries. In Germany, as feed-in tariff rates dipped below retail rates from the grid, batteries have become more popular to serve self-consumption.

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This time, interest in the technology is not coming from off-grid system designers; it is coming from Silicon Valley and savvy industry veterans who see it as the next big business opportunity.

Electric car manufacturer Tesla last week unveiled a suite of batteries for homes and businesses. It is not the only battery storage system on the market, but Tesla’s sleek-designed, wall-mounted batteries will definitely help to accelerate the use of solar batteries.

This time in addition to providing backup power when the grid is down, replacing noisy, dirty fossil fuel generators with zero-emission storage technology batteries are also coming with additional features that will reduce energy costs by using stored energy to reduce peak electricity demand.

Solar with energy storage is transforming the way electricity generated and delivered to end customers across the world. Grid will transform from primary source for electricity to back up source; with this trend we believe in the next decade, customers will decide what they want to pay the utility.

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