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Storing Solar Electricity

The challenge with solar power is the storage of the electricity generated. Solar energy can be used as it is generated – which is during the day – but come nightfall, or extended cloudy weather, unless it can be stored, solar energy is less useful.

Enter the lithium-ion battery. These are usually the size of a small fridge and are easy to control. The prediction for battery storage in the global market is that it will grow from $US220 million ($302 million) in 2014 to $US18 billion by 2023. At least this is what the International Renewable Energy Agency considers to be the situation.

It has been estimated by Morgan Stanley that 2.4 million east coast homes will have batteries installed within the next few years to ensure they are able to use more of the solar power they generate during the sunlight hours. Australia has such a popular rooftop solar power industry, that the leading energy retailers are now supplying batteries to those people who have expressed they want to be a part of the renewable alternative energy source revolution. The issue is that the financial incentives for householders to feed the excess energy produced by rooftop solar PV (photovoltaic) panels back into the grid have been greatly reduced – so home owners want to use the power themselves.

So, using the stored power themselves also means the householder is saving money by not having to pay for peak-tariff electricity from the grid. John Grimes of the Energy Storage Council considers that storage has been the ‘missing link’ particularly in the uptake of solar energy. He states that: “Feed-in tariffs for solar PV around the country have really been cut to a punitive level so many people are now receiving 6¢ or 8¢ per kilowatt hour for the energy that they feed into the grid and are having to buy energy back at the full retail rate of 25 to 28¢ per kilowatt hour.”

Storage for intermittent renewable sources means that grid peak times will be less and the large thermal power stations will not need to pump out huge quantities of power at specific times, thus causing less pollution.

The high tech battery systems are not cheap though – and the costing is so high that in the first few years uptake is not expected to be great. But the price of the batteries would be expected to fall after the first few years and then they are likely to become extremely popular. However Paul Reid, the head of Panasonic Australia, suggests that not all consumers base their decisions solely on financial factors and may become involved in the battery scenario even before costs fall to a lower level. Some people want to be empowered by knowing they have greater control over their energy usage and needs.

John Grimes considers that consumers and their needs should be at the centre of the energy market, rather than the energy companies.

Source:  How battery-powered homes are unplugging Australia Angela Macdonald-Smith SMH August 1, 2015.