energy storage future

For one week, each cloudy, San Francisco July, the sun shines brightly on the solar industry. Intersolar North America comes to town and provides a venue for solar professionals from around the world to share insight into the technology and market trends propelling the industry forward.

For the past four years, Antenna has partnered with Intersolar to drive the show’s communications and marketing programs. Through this partnership, we’re offered an inside look at the show’s hottest topics. This year, the maturing solar industry was most heavily focused on resolving one specific challenge – how to bottle the sun, or in other words, develop cost-effective energy storage technologies.

As more solar is connected to the grid, utilities and project developers are becoming highly focused on how to stabilize energy intermittency. Energy storage is key to resolving this issue. Even though the solar storage market has grown steadily worldwide, particularly in recent years, storage technologies have yet to fall in cost like other critical solar equipment such as modules and balance of system components.

Intersolar panelists offered a diverse range of opinions on how to integrate more cost-effective solar onto the grid. Based on our close coverage of the four-day event, here are a few of the more notable sub-topics that dominated discussion:

California’s leadership – advancing battery storage through policy.
A central theme that emerged at the show was California’s leadership role in the energy storage market. The market just received a shot in the arm from an aggressive storage mandate, AB 2514, which requires California’s big three investor-owned utilities to procure 1.3 gigawatts of storage by 2020. Panelists discussed how this bill has created an enormous market for storage and has set the state to be one of the largest storage markets in the world. The Intersolar AWARD winners, announced on site, showcased storage solutions already implemented in California. For example, Princeton Power System’s Alcatraz Project was selected for its innovative use and design of an integrated battery-storage and fuel back-up system.

The rise of “power smoothing.”
Power smoothing – or ensuring a steady, consistent flow of energy on the grid – was also a prominent topic at this year’s show. It was particularly salient among professionals from the East Coast, who noted the importance of consistent power amid natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. Developers in emerging markets also talked about how storage is important in regions without a steady stream of power on the grid already. Panelists highlighted molten salt as one technology well suited for power smoothing applications.

The need for bankable solutions.
One storage topic all professionals seemed to agree on was the absolute need for solutions to be bankable. While panelists did not come to a consensus around how exactly to bring prices down and ensure that storage is cost competitive with traditional electricity sources, they did agree it was possible. Incentive programs and continued research into more cost-effective technologies were are few of the solutions mentioned on site. For example, speakers on the “Energy Storage: Market Prospects and Policies” panel talked specifically about different government policies and whether the carrot (rewards for storage) or the stick (government mandates), was the right approach.

Though there wasn’t clarity around how the industry will identify winners in the solar storage market, optimism nonetheless reigned supreme. The general feeling was that with help from policy makers, technology inventors and business experts alike, the solar industry will soon widely integrate cost-effective and scalable energy solutions with residential, commercial and utility-scale solar systems. And so just like that, it appears that storage’s day in the sun is just over the horizon.

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