Solar-Plus-Storage: The Future of Business Energy Efficiency
VeloSolar • Updated on May 4, 2023 • [rt_reading_time postfix=”minute”] read
VeloSolar • Updated on May 4, 2023 • [rt_reading_time postfix=”minute”] read
One of the biggest challenges with solar generation is that it’s intermittent – you can’t generate solar energy when the sun isn’t shining. Another challenge is that at certain times of day, your solar generation may be greater than the amount of electricity you can actually use in real-time. What happens to that excess energy?
Fortunately, there’s a third option that solves both the intermittency and excess solar generation challenges – you add storage. Adding energy storage to your solar system can maximize your investment, and we think it’s pretty genius. Here’s why.
As you probably guessed, a solar-plus-storage system includes a solar array that’s co-located with an energy storage solution. This setup allows you to bank the excess energy generated by your solar array for future use – giving you energy flexibility and independence.
Most storage systems used by commercial and industrial operations include lithium ion batteries, but there are other options. We’ll delve into the different types of battery storage in a bit, but first, let’s look at how storage can maximize your solar power investment.
There are three primary reasons why you should consider adding storage to your solar system, which is also called solar PV:
Severe weather is causing more frequent and longer power grid outages. More than just an inconvenience, long-term power outages are costly for businesses in terms of lost productivity, inventory, and opportunities.
Solar-plus-storage makes your business more resilient because you will have a reliable source of electricity no matter the state of the utility grid – or the time of day.
Your solar panels can generate backup power during the day, storing any excess electricity you generate in your battery system. The batteries can then be discharged to power nighttime operations.
A solar-plus-storage system can also reduce your electricity costs and make your utility bill more predictable. Commercial and industrial businesses (C&I) typically pay more for electricity during peak demand hours. If you’re generating your own solar power, you can use that energy during the more expensive hours for the grid, avoiding some or all of your utility’s peak demand charges.
Of course the challenge with this is that peak demand times are typically during times of day when the sun is moving lower in the sky and your solar panels aren’t as efficient. This is where storage comes into play. If you have excess solar energy stored in batteries or another type of storage technology, you’ll be able to use that power to minimize the amount of grid energy you need during peak hours, which saves you money.
In addition to increasing the financial value of your PV system, storage can maximize your use of renewable energy, helping you to further reduce your carbon footprint and meet your sustainability goals.
As we’ve discussed, storage allows you to shift when you use the excess energy your solar array generates. That means that when your solar PV system isn’t generating power at night, or it’s not producing enough energy to meet your power needs on a cloudy day, you can draw on that stored energy rather than a fossil fuel powered source, such as the electric grid.
The electric grid still largely uses fossil fuels to generate power, so the math here is simple. The lower the electricity demand from customers, the less energy the utility needs to generate, and the less carbon pollution is released into the atmosphere.
Reducing your carbon emissions also makes good business sense. Companies are increasingly selecting partners based in part on a vendor or supplier’s efforts to source and use clean energy. Solar panels combined with storage could give you a leg up over the competition the next time you bid for a contract.
There are three primary ways to store solar energy – thermal, mechanical, and batteries. Let’s take a look at the differences.
Thermal energy storage 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, the thermal storage system uses the heated fluid to boil water and create steam, which 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 these technologies convert excess electrical power into mechanical power, which can then be converted back to electricity when needed.
If you’re investigating solar energy storage for your business, batteries are probably the most viable option – both in terms of economics and practicality. Here’s why.
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 familiar with Li-ion batteries because they’re commonly used in cell phones and laptops, as well as in many hybrid and electric vehicles. Driven by the demands of the electric vehicle industry, battery manufacturers have made technological advancements in the past few years that have increased the storage capacity and reduced the price tag of lithium ion batteries. These are just two of the reasons that Li-ion is emerging as the battery of choice for the solar industry.
Li-ion chemistry is well understood and safe, and the batteries are smaller and relatively lightweight compared to other options, which means they can be installed just about anywhere. They’re also resilient – they’re designed to handle the repeated charge and discharge cycles they’ll encounter as a part of a PV storage system.
All these factors make Li-ion batteries a great solution for businesses looking to maximize the ROI of their solar power installation.
One of the first questions we hear when talking to customers about storage systems is how many batteries do I need? The answer is always, “it depends.”
Will your battery 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?
When you partner with a reputable solar provider that’s experienced in battery storage systems, like Velo Solar, they’ll work with you to answer these questions and tailor a solar and battery storage system that fits your needs and your budget.
Adding storage to your solar installation will add to the cost of your project. But, like your solar PV system, your battery array is a long-term investment. The Li-ion batteries commonly used in solar storage applications have a lifespan of 15 to 30 years, depending on the specific 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 – and this is yet another reason why working with a reputable commercial solar partner is key to ensuring your solar and storage systems will delivery energy flexibility for your business for years to come.
We said earlier that the EV industry has advanced Li-ion battery technology in recent years, to the benefit of the solar industry. It’s worth noting that there are considerable funds earmarked in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that will fund further battery technology developments in the years to come.
But, battery manufacturers are not the only ones who can benefit from recent tax credits.
To help lower costs for system owners, the federal government included a tax credit specifically for battery storage systems in the IRA. What this means is that your solar-plus-storage system may be eligible for the full 30% tax credit.
It also permits standalone battery storage projects to apply for the full 30% tax credit, even if they aren’t connected to a PV project. This tax credit gives a system owner increased flexibility when phasing-in a renewables strategy. It also allows residential and commercial customers to prioritize resiliency and energy flexibility without sacrificing ITC eligibility.
In addition to federal tax credits, your state may offer credits or incentives to help reduce the cost of a solar-plus-storage system. You’ll want to work with a reputable local solar provider, like Velo Solar, to ensure your tax credits are maximized.
Solar-plus-storage systems maximize resilience, cost savings, and the use of clean, renewable energy. This is why they’re so popular with business owners.
But designing effective, efficient, and flexible solar-plus-storage systems for commercial customers can be tricky. It’s a complicated process to figure how much solar energy a business needs, as well as how much storage is required. You want a partner that will work with you to design a system that’s both right-sized for your energy needs today, and capable of growing with your business in the future.
That’s why you want a partner like Velo Solar – a company that has more than a decade of experience designing, installing, and maintaining commercial solar-plus-storage installations.