In 2017 the solar industry rode what was dubbed “the solar coaster,” with ups and downs cycling throughout the year. Despite some of the downs, which include the Section 201 trade case in the US, there are many encouraging and positive messages. Solar is now a strong part of the overall energy mix, installations and efficiencies are up, and solar+energy storage is making real change where it’s needed. Solar Novus has identified six notable trends within the solar industry that will continue well into 2018 and beyond.
A microgrid is a group of distributed energy resources that feed into the grid, but that can also be disconnected from the grid, with the ability to operate in “island” mode. The difference between a “regular” solar installation and a microgrid is that, in the event of a power outage, a microgrid will still supply power to the home or businesses to which it is connected. A “regular” solar installation feeds into the grid, and when the grid is out, the homes and businesses that had been powered by the solar are also in the dark. Adding energy storage to a microgrid ensures that power will always be available, even when there is no sun or wind to supply solar or wind energy. Microgrids are found on campuses, in off-grid remote areas, on military bases and in commercial and industrial locations. Schneider Electric, for example, installed a microgrid at its North American headquarters in Massachusetts. It will be used to reduce costs and enable Schneider Electric to control its energy future, and it will also be used to research and develop new microgrid technologies and solutions.
Solar photovoltaic systems are most efficient when the panels get the most sunlight. Because the earth moves throughout the day, using tracking technology increases electricity generation.
More than half of the utility-scale solar power plants in the US use some form of tracking technology, with the type used varying according to the weather and solar insolation in the region. Read more about the use of trackers in US utility installations in “More than Half of US Utility-scale Solar Systems Use Trackers.” PV trackers will be the fastest growing solar racking segment of the market through 2022, driven by falling costs, technology improvements and geographic diversification.
The 2017 hurricane season ranked alongside 1936 as the fifth-most active season since records have been kept, and the most active since 2010. Between the destruction from hurricanes and tropical cyclones, the Florida Keys, Dominica, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and even Northern Europe were affected, with many areas still without power today.
Many in the solar industry banded together, knowing that solar systems with battery backup could come to the aid of those without power. Sunrun, Give Power and Empowered by Light are just a few of the non-profits that installed solar microgrids and water desalination systems. And The Solar Foundation partnered with the Clinton Foundation on an initiative called Solar Saves Lives, which sent millions of dollars worth of products from solar and storage companies.
The big business of solar
In 2011 when British Petroleum left the solar business, a spokesperson for the company said that BP had no future in a “commoditised” business. Fast forward six years, and BP is back with a $200 million investment in Lightsource Energy. What’s changed? According to BP’s own analysis, solar is likely to generate around a third of the world’s total renewable power and up to 10% of global power by 2035. Not surprisingly, total corporate funding, including venture capital, public market and debt financing, is still strong, with about $7.1 billion raised in the first nine months of 2017. In other news, Sun Exchange, a solar equipment leasing marketplace that leverages blockchain technology, raised $1.6 million in seed financing.
Solar on schools
Solar power for schools makes complete sense. Schools are generally in session during the day when the sun is shining, and solar power is being generated. And solar can help school systems reduce or eliminate electricity bills.
A recent report indicates that there are over 5000 K-12 schools in the United States using solar power—nearly double what was installed just three years ago. There are many ways to finance solar on schools; one of which is the community solar model, which was implemented throughout a school district in Colorado with much success. In warm regions, such as Hawaii, solar+storage are providing electricity as well as air conditioning.
Community solar is a solar electric system that provides renewable energy to multiple community members. It appeals especially to those people who want to purchase their power from renewable sources but for whom solar is not an option—such as renters, those whose roofs are shaded or those who don’t want to or can’t afford to install solar on their own home. In the US, community solar programs are in place in 17 states and that’s continuing to expand. The Coalition for Community Solar Access recently released resources to help expand community solar nationwide.