Energy storage 'could maximise solar power utility'

15th Jul 2013

Solar power is already a mainstay in the Australian energy market, but experts argue that a lack of development in energy storage technologies could be stopping solar from reaching its full potential.

Giles Parkinson, editor of sustainable news site Reneweconomy, discussed the issue with several industry specialists and many say the over-riding barrier is cost.

Parkinson got the ball rolling, stating: "Solar, and solar PV in particular, is being expanded at breathtaking speed, but the long-term value of those installations, both to the consumer and the grid operator, seems to be intertwined with the ability to store that electricity.

"Which means there are two key questions about storage that everyone wants to know the answer to: those of costs and of value."

Ash Sharma, senior research director with energy research firm HIS, said storage remains a fairly immature market, which means it is not benefiting from large-scale production.

Once the sector develops, the cost of using such technology could come down by as much as 40 per cent, he added.

And it is the flexibility of storage that Sharma cites as one of its main benefits, offering solutions across both the residential and commercial solar industries.

Households can take advantage of higher levels of self-consumption, he explained, which means more utility from rooftop solar PV.

This is particularly useful as solar PV generation does not always match demand, while feed-in tariff rebates are now below retail prices in many places.

As for commercial applications, Sharma has this to say:

"Storage can be used to shift consumption around to avoid peak demand charges, which are common in commercial energy rates. And it can be used as back-up power."

So, where are the biggest large-scale solar storage opportunities? Sharma thinks off-grid and remote locations are where the next solar boom could play out.

Many of these places need storage to be viable, making it an area with lots of potential, he claimed.

He's not the only one to offer this opinion. Recently, David Green of the Clean Energy Council said off-grid markets remain an excellent chance for the solar industry to thrive.

Cost remains a problem though. Mark Johnson, program director for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, posited a figure at which the price of storage would become "invisible" if added to bills.

According to Johnson, around 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity generation is the sweet spot.

Posted by Mike Peacock

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