In the 2020s solar power enjoys a dual status in the global energy market. It’s at once a technology available for mainstream use today, while also being widely regarded as the technology of the future. This dynamic may appear simple at first, but in reality, a more in-depth consideration of both is necessary and beneficial. Yes, already countless communities around the world see solar installations scattered across their rooftops—and huge solar farms operating in areas with more open space—but ultimately the solar revolution has really only just begun.
In perhaps no area is this more clear-cut than the utilization of solar batteries, both now and into the future. Solar batteries are already very capable, and have seen uptake across the globe. But similar to how digital storage—both cold and cloud—was recognized for its potential before impressive advances in successive generations saw digital storage become more widely utilized, a greater implementation of solar batteries is keenly anticipated. For what it could offer where batteries already find use today, as well as where they could come to provide totally new uses.
More batteries could decrease blackouts
While the uptake of solar technology globally has undoubtedly been tremendous, there’s been a byproduct of its growth in some communities. A number of these locales now need to reckon with a future where the excess supply of solar to the grid creates the risk of blackouts. What’s more, this problem does not simply arise when a local area obtains a significant level of solar installations that could feed excess energy into the grid. At present California is facing blackout challenges of a different kind, held to be owing to the energy gap that can emerge when a transition from fossil fuels to renewables hits a speed bump.
Given the complexity of such challenges (and their solutions), there’s no suggestion the greater uptake of solar batteries will represent a "cure all" here. But it could certainly help alleviate the issue in instances where the risk of blackouts is arising due to the problem of excess energy being fed into the grid. Batteries could of course allow for the storage of energy drawn from an installation, that’s instead currently going to the grid.
In turn, for communities that are making a transition to renewables, and face the risk of blackouts due to excess energy demand being drawn from the grid. This is because solar installations equipped with batteries could see energy that’s harvested earlier in the day utilized in the late afternoon and the evening, where peak usage—and thus where a household would usually draw the most energy from the grid—typically occurs. Accordingly, the widespread adoption of more batteries in such a community could significantly reduce pressure on an energy grid.
Increased options for selling excess solar
There’s the widespread presumption batteries will create more opportunities for the export of excess solar energy in the future. At present, there’s a number of communities where households with solar can dispatch their excess energy to the grid and receive a profit for doing so. The aforementioned risk of blackouts that’s growing in many places means authorities may soon decrease the rate of profit, or end outright, the opportunity for solar households to do so. At least during peak periods. Unsurprisingly, this idea rankles many current and would-be solar households.
Yet with a battery and the emergence of more opportunities in the market for exporting solar, the "best of both worlds" could be had. A system where authorities do not need to worry about excess solar being fed into the grid during the wrong time of the day, but households can still export their excess. Such a goal could potentially be achieved by adjusting market settings, to encourage a household to export their excess energy only during off-peak periods, such as overnight.
Yet the presence of a battery would be essential in order for a household to be able to do this. Otherwise, it could disincentive households from acquiring a solar system if there’s not a path available to export excess energy for profit. This said, there’s the expectation that the future introduction of new offerings in energy markets—such as a blockchain-based option—could create a personalized market of sorts for solar owners. One which could give them control over selling their excess energy as they please to various customers. This could provide a new incentive for battery uptake, even if numerous subsidies as seen now in many communities, are eventually scaled back.
Ultimately, the immense popularity of solar is terrific. But the rapid growth it is seeing in many communities does require effective management—and in some circumstances a (comparatively) rapid response. A rapid uptake of batteries may not represent an all-in-one fix, but can certainly assist in addressing the emerging challenge of how to manage excess solar energy, so it’s neither a hazard to the grid nor wasted by a decrease in incentives for solar households to export energy.
Other emerging uses for solar batteries
At present, it’s envisioned that greater battery storage capabilities will find their strongest use in conventional solar installations. Especially given the growth of the smart home and its associated devices, which will over time see more energy use in solar households (notwithstanding the aforementioned potential for increase of export options of any excess energy generated).
Yet it’s also necessary to note the greater use foreseen for solar battery storage in other areas.
The San Diego-based Aptera Motors contend their upcoming “electric/solar” vehicle will allow a driver to do 40 miles a day, without needing to charge via a power outlet (though charging via this method if possible if desired). This thanks to their Never Charge Technology and more than three square meters on the car that harvest energy each day.
There’s already been the debut of the Caviar iPhone X “Tesla” smartphone cover that serves as a solar installation and battery system all-in-one. This accessory was made by a Russian smartphone accessory manufacturer affiliated with neither Apple nor the Elon Musk-led Tesla. In turn, at a price of US$4,500, it certainly costs more than a regular smartphone cover available on a typical eCommerce site for under $100. Nonetheless, it does offer a glimpse into an era where advances in panel and battery tech could potentially one day see our phones charged by a solar setup on the back.
Maintaining the energy for change
One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the reduction in pollution. The benefits of this for solar harvesting have also been immense. According to a report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, when examining Delhi, India the discovery was made that a reduction in air pollution due to COVID-19 saw an 8 percent increase in power output by solar panels.
This is an important consideration within the broader context of considering the future of solar batteries. Many jurisdictions are rightfully seeking to boost the presence of both solar panels and solar batteries in their territory. Some locales such as the state of South Australia have done so well in solar uptake they’re now urgently pursuing community battery projects and similar schemes to neutralize the risk of blackouts on the grid due to oversupply while avoiding wasting excess solar energy that’s generated.
So while more uses for solar batteries are very exciting, their progress and increased use in solar systems cannot be seen as an antidote to ongoing work on broader climate issues. Unfortunately, some who now recognize renewables are going to decisively win the energy battle are identifying a "backup argument" for inaction on climate change by rationalizing if renewables are improving so drastically, is other action really so necessary? Put simply, it is.
In turn, the reduction in environmental pollution can serve to increase the effectiveness of solar harvesting. This means the transition to green energy can effectively be sped up by a decrease in pollution, and both goals accordingly are inexorably linked.
A bright future in store
An industry seeking to make a prediction of the future must always be mindful such a task is fraught with risk. Indeed, it’s no understatement to say the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most powerful illustration of how an unpredictable event can serve as a rogue wave, and rapidly upend business as usual.
For this reason, expectations around the far greater utilization of solar batteries in the near future—especially given effectively every nation is still in economic recovery from the pandemic, and may yet encounter another setback due to a future outbreak—must factor this in.
But similar to how there are firm expectations of a decisive return to widespread space exploration and development in this decade, there’s indeed a fair basis to look forward with confidence to solar batteries finding higher rates of uptake going forward, especially as advances in their capabilities make them even more useful. This is surely something all solar enthusiasts can feel charged up about!