Solar power and electrical storage have entered the mainstream energy conversation of late with companies like Tesla and Vivint taking the lead.
Solar adoption by the most of the world’s major counties has been slow over the past decade, but recently things have begun to change. In the U.S., a large majority of the solar systems are in the West and Southwest (California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas) and add up to around 10.75 million homes. A few eastern states (New York, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Massachusetts) have roughly 2.4 million homes with some kind of solar rig.
All told, it is estimated that there are 17.7 million homes total in the US with solar power generating 19.2 gigawatts of power. If the industry continues at this rate it is expected the U.S solar industry will install more than 324 GW of capacity over the next 10 years.
The UK is currently generating around 13.5 GW of power, but solar is the third most common renewable energy with wind creating more than five times the energy of solar there. Other countries with broad adoption include China, Germany, Japan, and Australia.
Along with wind, a growing number of countries are turning to other renewables such as hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass. But solar is the one source that the general public has easy access to and can make the biggest difference in energy savings. The cost of solar panels continues to drop and, at this writing, has hit an all-time low of $2.81 per watt (down 21% in the past four years). The average efficiency of solar panels is in the 10-20% range, but there are experimental technologies that are now seeing upwards of 45% efficiency. Solar installers can be found in nearly every major city in every industrialized country in the world, and there are small, inexpensive systems available for supplying power to a few electronic devices.
Make It, Then Store It
Solar power generation is just part of the energy boom for homeowners and businesses. Storing that energy is key to a well-rounded system. New battery technologies are paving the way for personal energy independence. Lithium-iron-phosphate, lithium-manganese-cobalt, lithium-air, lithium-sulphur, sodium-ion, magnesium-ion, and vanadium flow are technologies showing promising results for higher output and more cycles than the current lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries. Distributed energy resources (DER) can support redundancy and provide fail-safes to a local (or larger) grid by incorporating multiple levels of energy creation and energy storage to support a community in times of outages, under-performing power supplies, or a sudden increase in energy demand.
Energy independence is not just a focus for counties, states, or cities anymore. People are realizing they want to have energy independence in their homes. A solution once touted as a mere money-saver is now about climate change and self-preservation. Rolling blackouts during the global fire seasons over the last few years, the severe weather that took Texas to its knees, and a move to stop using natural gas in countries like the UK (along with harsh winters there) are stressing the power grid. As consumer become more “energy-aware,” residential integrators have an opportunity to be a part of this revolution by becoming familiar with these systems, their installation, and potential automation solutions. Not all systems require a licensed electrician to install – regs do vary state by state and country by country, but integrators can easily partner with a solar specific company to install portions of the system just like you would with an electrician on a lighting system. You -- the integrator -- consult, design, and configure, and they install and support.
Add it all up, and the result’s pretty clear: Renewable energy and storage is set to surge over the next five years across the globe like it never has before.