Grid-Scale Solar Storage Booming
Intermittency has long plagued the renewable energy industry. The sun does not always shine and wind does not always blow. As solar generation capacity increases worldwide, storage technology is becoming more important as a way to minimize power fluctuations. Recent projects in California are trying to overcome power fluctuations and are leading the way to grid-scale solar storage. California has been a proving ground for solar storage companies, which are mostly still in their infancy. As a recent Greentech Media (GTM) article reported, "California...may soon start leading the nation in the technologies that integrate that solar into the grid".
As the size of installations increases, storage is becoming a centerpiece of solar technology in California. Several large grid storage initiatives are currently underway in the state, particularly in Sacramento where San Diego Gas & Electric installed a 50-kilowatt system for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. In addition, Silent Power is currently testing an inverter with Sacramento's utility control systems that should help monitor and control intermittent power sources. Storage is also booming in other parts of California. Greensmith Energy Management Systems CEO John Jung told GTM in an interview that his "company is now hooking up 1.5 megawatts of grid-balancing lithium-ion batteries, set up in five 300 kilowatt-hour units" in the state. California was also the host of Intersolar North America 2012. In their report of the event, MarketWatch drew attention to the fact that "energy storage technologies ... were an important focus at this year's conference and exhibition".
The importance of solar storage for large installations has led to increased investment in the industry. According to a Bloomberg article Hanwha, a South Korean industrial conglomerate, has invested $8 billion in Silent Power, a solar storage systems company, and offers packages that include solar panels and storage technologies. GTM Researchers, working with the Chinese advisory firm Azure International, predict that energy storage at grid level in China will surge in the near future. The group said: "With strong government support and steadily improving technology, we anticipate the energy storage market will grow to a $500 million per year market by 2016".
Grid-scale storage technology is clearly becoming a reality. However, many solar storage concepts have not yet been implemented at a large scale. California, and other solar pioneering states, are important areas of heated competition that could lead to rapid growth in the energy storage industry. Thus far, lithium ion batteries are showing great promise. Currently the most used storage technology, Li+ batteries have proved effective in military microgrids and other solar storage situations. However, as an expert from A123 recently remarked: "The market still has to develop to bring down lithium-ion battery costs." In the end reducing cost is the major challenge to grid-scale solar storage.