Solar Energy Storage: A Critical Part of Your Energy Mix
VeloSolar • Updated on February 20, 2023 • [rt_reading_time postfix=”minute”] read
VeloSolar • Updated on February 20, 2023 • [rt_reading_time postfix=”minute”] read
While there are many benefits to installing a solar energy system for your business, there is one obvious limitation – the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day.
So how do business owners use solar to keep operations running smoothly 24/7? Imagine having energy on demand anytime you need it day or night, even when the utility or grid can’t provide it. Now imagine, that energy is coming from a carbon-free, clean source, right on your roof or outside your door. This is what combining solar with energy storage can do for your business.
It’s the perfect pairing – a solar panel system with energy storage technology.
At certain times of day, it’s possible that your solar system generates more electricity than you can use in real time. You have several options for that excess electricity. One, you can, in most areas, sell it back to your utility, but at a fraction of your utility rate = bad economics. Two, you can limit the production of your solar panels so that you generate only what you need = wasteful. Or three, you can invest in a solar energy storage solution to maximize your investment = genius.
Connecting your solar panels to solar energy storage technology is the best way to maximize your investment in solar power.
Simply put, energy storage solutions like batteries allow you to bank the excess energy generated by your solar array for future use – giving you energy flexibility and independence.
There are three primary reasons why you should consider storing the excess renewable energy produced by your solar panels.
First, solar energy storage makes your business resilient because you have a reliable source of electricity no matter the state of the utility grid – or the time of day.
It’s no secret that the US power grid is facing unprecedented challenges due to aging infrastructure and a growing number of extreme weather events. Utilities and the organizations responsible for electricity transmission are being forced to proactively manage electric loads to prevent widespread long-term outages. The way they do this is by implementing rolling blackouts or intentionally shutting down power to certain sections of the grid, leaving some customers in the dark.
While the shutdowns are for the benefit of the greater good, that’s not a whole lot of comfort if it’s your business that’s gone dark.
Rolling blackouts are a fact of life during California’s wildfire season, but now several transmission providers are warning customers in other parts of the country that there will be rolling blackouts this summer.
But, if your business is equipped with a properly sized solar plus storage system, you can have reliable power 24/7. Your solar panels can provide backup power during the day with the electricity you’ve stored in your batteries taking over at night.
The only other backup power solution is a generator that burns fossil fuels like natural gas or diesel. But if you’ve lived through a major storm that’s closed down roads for days or weeks at a time, you know that getting fuel to power your generator can be problematic. Also, fossil fuel costs continue to rise due to supply disruptions, global conflicts and economic forces – all things outside your business’ control.
With solar plus storage, you won’t have to shutter operations during a power outage, losing both time and money from lost inventory or lost production.
Solar energy storage solutions can also help make your energy costs more predictable. Commercial and industrial businesses typically pay more for electricity during peak demand hours, which is one of the primary reasons businesses invest in solar – a solar panel plus storage system can help mitigate those higher rates by reducing the amount of electricity you need to pull from the power grid.
The math is simple – the less electricity you pull from the grid, the lower your utility bill will be and the more you’ll be able to predict your monthly energy costs. Plus, as electricity rates from your utility increase, you are saving that much more $$ over time. Therefore, solar plus storage is an excellent way to hedge against energy-inflation.
As noted earlier, there are likely times during the day when you’re generating more solar electricity than you can use. If you’re looking to mitigate costs, you want to reduce the amount of energy you pull from the grid during peak demand hours – but that’s typically during times of day when the sun is moving lower in the sky and your solar panels aren’t as efficient.
Now, think about how much more powerful your solar system would be if you added an energy storage component. If you have excess solar energy stored in lithium ion batteries or another energy storage technology, you’ll be able to use that power to minimize your demand for grid energy during peak hours, which saves you money.
The third reason you should consider a solar energy storage solution is that it can help further reduce your carbon footprint.
Not only does integration of solar into your energy mix provide resilience and more predictable energy costs, it also reduces the carbon emissions associated with your business. While renewable energy adoption is growing among utilities, the grid still generates significant amounts of pollution. Again, the math here is simple. The lower the electricity demand from customers, the less energy the utility needs to generate from fossil fuels and the less carbon pollution is released into the atmosphere.
Reducing your carbon emissions makes good business sense. More and more companies are selecting partners based in part on a vendor or supplier’s efforts to source and use clean energy. Solar panels combined with solar energy storage could give you a leg up over the competition the next time you bid for a contract.
So, whether you bank the power to reduce the amount of energy you pull from the grid overnight or during peak demand hours, or you store it to provide resilient backup power during an outage, the key here is that energy storage allows you to decide how to best utilize your solar power resources.
All the while, you’re putting your business in its best light to vendors and stakeholders looking to do business with you.
There are three primary ways to store solar energy – thermal, mechanical, and solar batteries. Let’s take a look at the differences.
If you’re investigating solar energy storage for your business, solar plus batteries (or solar batteries) are probably the most viable option – both in terms of economics and practicality. Let’s talk a bit about how solar batteries work.
Solar batteries are a type of electrochemical battery; they store and release energy through a chemical reaction. The most common types of electrochemical batteries are lead-acid, nickel cadmium (NICd), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), and lithium ion (Li-ion).
You’re probably most familiar with lithium ion batteries, which are found in most cell phones and laptops, as well as in many of today’s hybrid and electric vehicles.
The electric vehicle industry’s adoption of lithium ion batteries has driven significant advancements in technology over the past few years. In an effort to help EVs go further more affordably, manufacturers have worked to increase battery storage capacity and reduce the price tag of lithium ion batteries.
While both lithium ion and lead-acid batteries can be used to store excess solar energy, lithium ion technology seems to be winning as the solar battery of choice. Li-ion battery chemistry is well understood and safe, and the batteries are also smaller and relatively lightweight compared to others on the market. They also have high energy storage capacity and the ability to be repeatedly recharged – both key selling points for those looking to maximize the ROI of their solar systems.
Thermal energy storage is one way to bank solar energy, though this is typically only used in very large scale installations called concentrated solar power (CSP) plants. The technology requires a fluid, such as water or molten salt, that can absorb and retain heat from the sun. This fluid is then stored in an insulated tank. When the stored solar energy is needed, thermal storage systems use the heated fluid to boil water and create steam, which in turn powers turbines that generate electricity.
Flywheel, pumped hydro, and compressed air are other technologies used to store energy, though due to costs, space requirements, and the sheer number of moving parts, these solutions are typically deployed only by very large businesses or at the utility scale level. All of these technologies convert excess electrical power into mechanical power, which is then converted back to electricity when needed.
The easiest illustration of mechanical energy storage is a hydroelectric dam. In this scenario, you use your excess energy to pump water uphill into a reservoir. Then, when you need that stored energy, you release the water back downhill through turbines that generate electricity.
It’s also important to note that there are considerable funds earmarked in the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that will continue the development of new battery technology in the years to come.
One of the first questions businesses have when thinking about whether or not to store solar energy is how many solar batteries do I need? The answer is always, “it depends.”
Will your solar storage system just be providing backup power in case of an outage or will you be using it to manage your energy costs 24/7? Will you be powering your entire operation or just key pieces of equipment?
It’s a complicated process to figure how much solar energy you need, and that’s why it’s critical that businesses work with a reputable solar provider experienced in commercial installations.
You want to find a partner that will work with you to design a solar + storage system that’s both right-sized for your energy needs today, and capable of growing with your business in the future.
“Velo Solar has over a decade of experience, designing custom energy storage solutions to match our customer’s needs with the latest, proven technology to deliver energy flexibility and resiliency”
The other reason you want to work with an expert is that a solar system and connected solar storage technology is a long-term investment. Li-ion batteries used in solar applications, for example, typically have a lifespan of 15-30 years, depending on the model and factors like the number of times they’re charged and discharged, environmental conditions, and how well they’re maintained. That means you want to make the right investment from the start.
Working with a reputable commercial solar partner like Velo Solar will help ensure that your solar + storage system will delivery energy flexibility for your business for years to come.