To Keep The Lights On During California’s Blackouts, People Are Using Solar Power

on October 10, 2019

Hundreds of thousands of homes in California lost power early on Wednesday as windy, dry weather increased the risk of fire, prompting the electric utility, PG&E, to shut down the grid to avoid any chance of the type of power-line accident that sparked the deadly wildfire in the small town of Paradise less than a year ago. It may take days for the power to come back on. But at some homes, solar and battery storage systems are keeping the lights on.

“Between the solar and the batteries, we could go on indefinitely as long as there’s some sun,” says architect Richard Schuh, who lives and works in the hills north of the town of Sonoma in an area without power. He and his wife now rely on a Tesla Powerwall connected to the solar panels on their roof. They decided to install the system after a major fire in 2017 blazed through their property, sparing their house but taking out power for three weeks.

“We had solar the whole time, but the solar was shut down because it’s connected to the grid,” he says. “So we weren’t able to use that even though it was still generating power.” They installed the battery earlier this year. When the utility warns that it may need to cut off power, the battery gets an alert so that it can automatically fully charge in advance. When the grid is down, the system operates independently, continuing to store power from the house’s solar panels.

“When the grid goes down, everything shuts down with it,” says Anne Hoskins, chief policy officer at Sunrun, a company that sells solar power systems and home batteries. “But when you have the batteries and the solar panels and the inverters, we’re able to essentially create a little microgrid for the house so that the house can continue to receive solar power during the day. And then solar power can be stored in the battery as well, that could then be used in the evening when it’s dark.”

When the grid operates normally, batteries manage how solar panels send power back into the grid, helping provide power when demand peaks. That means that a homeowner can save money on electric bills since the utility charges more when demand is highest. “It provides value, not just during an outage but actually allows you to take advantage of off-peak electricity rates all year round,” says Dan Lashof, a homeowner in Berkeley who uses a Powerwall battery with a home solar system.

As more people install batteries, that can also help reduce the risk of fire by easing stress on transmission lines. “The more people that we can get engaged in helping to provide energy at what we call the ‘edge of the grid,’ the less has to be transported through forest areas and over system distribution and transmission lines that we know are really in need of repair,” Hoskins says.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsTo Keep The Lights On During California’s Blackouts, People Are Using Solar Power

These Solar Stocks Have Plummeted: 3 Reasons You Should Buy Now

on October 7, 2019

It’s been a great year for solar energy investors. The Invesco Solar ETF (NYSEMKT:TAN), which owns a stake in more than 20 companies focused primarily on some area of solar, is up 55% so far this year. Two stocks held in the Invesco Solar ETF that are responsible for a lot of those gains are Enphase Energy (NASDAQ:ENPH) and SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR), up 358% and 102% respectively.

First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), another component of the Invesco Solar ETF, has also had a strong year. At this writing shares are up 32%; that may not match the performance of some of its solar peers, but it’s almost 70% better than the 19% in total returns the S&P 500 has generated so far in 2019.

But more recently, Enphase, SunPower, and First Solar have fallen sharply. Those stellar returns to date would be even better if not for a recent swoon across the solar sector that’s seen the three lose 38%, 33%, and 17% from their 2019 highs. I think that’s made for an excellent opportunity to buy, for anyone who’s willing and able to hold them.

There’s a multiyear opportunity ahead of the solar industry, and all three of these companies are positioned to profit. Three key reasons underpin my thesis that these are “buy on the dip” stocks worth owning for the long term:

  1. A growing global middle class will require substantial expansion in energy production.
  2. Solar costs continue to fall while efficiencies get better.
  3. Energy storage technology is quickly expanding the percentage of the world’s energy needs that solar can meet.

Here’s how these three things are set to make SunPower, First Solar, and Enphase Energy moneymaking stocks worth buying now and owning for years to come.

This huge trend will drive substantial growth in solar power

In the U.S., the middle class hasn’t had a very good run in recent decades. Inflation has outpaced middle-class wages for years, and income and wealth inequity have see the rich get richer and the rest of us fight over what’s left.

However, in many of the world’s up-and-coming markets, the middle class is booming. According to a 2017 Brookings report, the middle class is expected to make up more than half the world’s population by 2020, and then grow by another one billion people by 2028.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsThese Solar Stocks Have Plummeted: 3 Reasons You Should Buy Now

Can Energy Storage Be a Staple for Residential Solar?

on September 24, 2019

When Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) introduced the Powerwall in 2015, it was the start of a race toward energy storage becoming a standard offering with residential solar. At the time, the Powerwall was meant to be a backup system for homeowners, but the promise was that eventually, it would offer the opportunity to take a home almost entirely off the grid.

There have been fits and starts for Tesla’s Powerwall business, and to date, it hasn’t really moved the needle for Tesla in comparison to electric vehicles. And today companies like Sunrun (NASDAQ: RUN), Sonnen, and SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) are offering their own energy storage solutions. SunPower’s recently announced Equinox Storage, which pairs with its Equinox solar product, may be the most complete offering yet.

How SunPower is bringing storage into the home

SunPower is pairing an energy storage system that can be up to 12 kilowatt-hours (kWh) with an inverter and hub that will control a home’s energy consumption. The system can charge when solar energy production is at its peak, discharge into the home when utility rates are high, and provide backup in an emergency.

The two systems currently being offered are 4.2 kW/6.5 kWh and 6.8kW/13 kWh, both of which come in a box that’s 62 inches tall, 21 inches wide, and 13.5 inches deep. That’s significantly larger than the 5.75-inch-thick Powerwall and smaller than the largest Powerwall’s 13.5 kWh of capacity. But SunPower is betting that the full package is what homeowners will value.

Norm Taffe, SunPower’s executive vice president of residential solar, said, “Equinox Storage also automatically manages energy supply based on solar production, home electricity consumption, and utility rates to make the most efficient use of stored power every day.” In that sense, it’s a seamless addition for consumers and can save them money from Day One.

When packaged with SunPower solar, the Equinox Storage product offers a single point of contact and warranty for solar and energy storage. And the storage system will likely be the hub for SunPower’s vision of offering energy as a service to customers.

Will homeowners care?

The big question is whether or not homeowners will care about energy storage. Commercial customers are attaching energy storage with about 30% of SunPower’s solar installation, but there’s an economic justification for commercial customers who can lower demand charges by using storage to shift peak demand to off-peak hours.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsCan Energy Storage Be a Staple for Residential Solar?

Clean Energy Interactive: Solarwatt’s VR Factory Tour, Installer-Friendly App

on September 20, 2019

Energy-Storage-NewsNothing brings an exhibition stand to life like interactive displays. Solarwatt take us inside their glass-glass solar module factory with a stunning – if slightly disorienting – virtual reality tour.

We also get to see a new ‘training and explaining’ app for installers of the company’s modular battery energy storage systems.

We also talk about how to show customers the key benefits and features of battery systems, from explaining exactly what they can do and being clear abut what they cannot do, as well as the best ways to install them safely and to communicate key messages to customers along the way.

Forgive us the slightly noisy sound quality – it was a busy show!

Presented at Solar & Storage Live, Birmingham, UK, September 2019. Many thanks to Solarwatt & to Terrapin Events. Videography by Fergus March.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsClean Energy Interactive: Solarwatt’s VR Factory Tour, Installer-Friendly App

Bill Gates: This Is What We Need To Do To Tackle Climate Change

on May 21, 2019

Wind and solar power generation is expanding around the globe at record rates, allowing more people to get their electricity from clean, renewable sources than ever before. This is great news.

And here’s better news: We can do even more. By investing in energy innovations, we can build on the progress we’ve made deploying current technology like renewables, which will help accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to a future of reliable and affordable carbon-free electricity.

This would be an incredible achievement and the most important step we can take to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.

Here’s why: While electricity generation is the single biggest contributor to climate change—responsible for 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and growing every day—it’s an even bigger part of the solution. With clean electricity, we can do more than light our homes and power our grid. We’ll unlock a source of carbon-free energy to help power the sectors of the economy that produce the other 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, including transportation, buildings, and manufacturing. Think electric cars and buses; emission-free heating and cooling systems in our homes and businesses; and energy-intensive factories using more clean power to make products.

So, what will it take to reach the goal of zero carbon electricity generation?

We must solve two challenges. The first challenge will come as no surprise. We need to do more to harness the power of the sun and wind. And thanks to falling prices for solar panels, wind turbines, and other technologies, deploying renewable energy systems is more affordable than ever before.

The second challenge is probably less obvious and more difficult. We need big breakthroughs in technologies that will allow us to supply the power grid with clean energy even during windless days, cloudy weather, and nighttime.

Usually, you back up renewable sources with fossil fuels like natural gas that can quickly and reliably provide power when it’s needed. To reach zero carbon emissions, however, we need to find a way to use more clean energy sources as a backstop.

While I wish there could be a single, magic bullet solution to this problem, there isn’t one right now. What will be required in the years ahead is a diverse and flexible mix of energy solutions—a Swiss army knife of energy tools—to support a future of renewable energy generation to meet our needs. Some of these solutions already exist. Others will require more innovation. All can help us make the transition to low-cost, carbon-free power. This is something a growing number of states across the U.S. are recognizing as they adopt 100 percent carbon-free standards for electricity.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsBill Gates: This Is What We Need To Do To Tackle Climate Change

Renewable Energy: A Multi-Trillion-Dollar Marketplace Is Emerging

on April 23, 2019

The country’s electric grid was once called one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century. Now, however, its three interconnected grids are decades old and the world has shifted. Billions of individual devices and population growth have increased demand exponentially. Technological advances with the potential to lower costs and ward off cyber dangers are critically needed. And, commitments to clean and renewable energy sources have become mandates. Big changes are inevitable.

Most of the systems in the U.S. were constructed in the 50s and 60s and they had a life expectancy of 50 years. Today, almost all operate at maximum capacity and they are all stretched to the limit. With population growth, spiraling demand, changes in power generation and mandates for the use of clean and renewable energy sources, change must come quickly.

Energy professionals throughout the country are looking for ways to increase capacity, provide storage, expand services and ensure security and sustainability. Those goals cannot be reached without collaboration from private-sector partners.

The increase in commitments to renewable energy, if nothing else, will push immediate change. California, New Mexico, and Hawaii have passed legislation that mandates 100 percent renewable energy in the coming years. Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and many other cities have similar commitments to renewable energy. Most power grids were not originally constructed for wind and solar options…that’s a problem that must be fixed.

Colleges and universities in the U.S. are also setting renewable energy goals. They want 100 percent of their power to come from renewable sources. The University of California System has launched initiatives to convert all its heating, cooling and other power requirements to electric by 2025. That’s because they intend to use renewable energy sources.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsRenewable Energy: A Multi-Trillion-Dollar Marketplace Is Emerging

With Utility’s Support, Solar-Plus-Storage Takes Off in Vermont

on April 23, 2019

When Tom Feist and his wife, Linda Schadler, moved to northern Vermont last year, they knew they wanted a backup power source to protect them from bitter cold and snow and for added peace of mind in a relatively remote home. They immediately decided on a solar array to provide electricity, but had choices to make for a backup power system.

While a propane generator was cheaper than the initial $12,000 they eventually spent on the battery, the costs penciled out comparably over the lifetime of energy credits from the system in addition to lower maintenance expenses than what a generator would require.

“Long-term it looked like a better deal, for environmental and financial reasons,” Feist said.

Their home has a 10-kilowatt-hour battery with the solar system rated at 7.2 kilowatt peak power. “We can run a well, septic, heater, a refrigerator and some lights to keep comfortable, even if the power was out for an extended period,” Feist said.

The installation is part of a larger effort by a Vermont utility to encourage distributed energy and save money by reducing peak demand.

Feist enrolled in a pilot program launched by Green Mountain Power last year that has signed up more than 500 customers to test acceptance and operations of combined solar and battery storage systems. Results were so promising that a second and enhanced pilot program was announced in February.

‘We now see peaks after dark’
Green Mountain Power has worked to integrate battery storage into its system on a small scale, but in the past year it has deployed an increasing number of units. It began offering solar-storage platforms more than a year ago. It started a “bring your own device” program with batteries provided by third-party suppliers, first as a pilot and now as a consumer option.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsWith Utility’s Support, Solar-Plus-Storage Takes Off in Vermont

Wind, Solar Industries Pleased by Dem Letter Supporting Clean Energy Tax Credits

on April 8, 2019

House Republicans passed tax reform last year, but Democrats have set their sights on tweaking things again to help clean energy. Last week Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), introduced legislation that would create a tax credit for energy storage technologies. His proposal came even as more than 100 Democrats signed a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee asking for a long-term extension of clean energy tax credits, a move that would benefit alternative-fuel vehicles and utility-scale storage.

In the letter, Democrats proposed having the committee revisit more than 40 provisions in the tax code that award subsidies to conventional energy. They noted that Congress has not addressed ways of supporting clean energy in a decade and pushed for an extension of tax credits that otherwise expired.

“With these latest climate reports in mind as well as our shared interest in developing a thoughtful, comprehensive infrastructure package to support economic growth and address some of the most pressing challenges facing the country, we ask that the Ways and Means Committee not miss the opportunity to support the development of clean energy technologies,” the letter stated.

Green energy groups came out in favor of the letter, which they say would help both the environment and the economy.

“As the signatories note, providing long-term certainty for clean energy tax incentives would allow the U.S. to achieve its carbon reduction goals while dramatically boosting clean energy jobs, U.S. investment in electric generation and our global position as a renewable energy leader,” said Gregory Wetstone, President and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), in a statement.

“Clarifying the tax code for energy storage technologies is also a critical piece of the puzzle that would have technology-neutral benefits,” he stressed.

The letter was also praised by groups representing the wind and solar power industries, both of which would benefit from the proposed clean energy tax incentives.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the largest solar industry organization in the country, said that it was “pleased” by the strong support for clean energy priorities.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsWind, Solar Industries Pleased by Dem Letter Supporting Clean Energy Tax Credits

Florida Utility Plans World’s Largest Battery Combined With Solar

on March 29, 2019

Major US utility Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) is planning to build the world’s largest battery energy storage system adjacent to an existing solar power plant, with plans to roll out multiple other storage systems across the state.

With the key proposed battery standing at 409MW capacity, the Florida energy company claims it will be four times larger than the largest battery currently operating worldwide. Furthermore, the system will help reduce fossil fuel usage and thereby accelerate the decommissioning of two neighbouring, 1970s-era natural gas power units.

The FPL Manatee Energy Storage Center will be powered by an existing PV plant in Parrish, Manatee County, and capable of distributing 900MWh of electricity. It will start serving customers in 2021, with the batteries being used particularly during peak demand periods, thereby reducing the requirement for electricity from other power plants. It will be able to provide energy the equivalent of 329,000 homes for a period of two hours, saving FPL customers more than US$100 million in the process.

Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL, said: “This is a monumental milestone in realizing the full benefits of solar power and yet another example of how FPL is working hard to position Florida as the global gold standard for clean energy.”

The company has 18 solar power plants currently in operation and four more entering construction, but it is no stranger to solar-plus-storage, having opened the largest plant combining solar and storage at Babcock Ranch in Charlotte County in 2018, and the company is now also planning smaller battery installations and solar plants across the state. This, while carrying out efficiency upgrades to existing combustion turbines at other power plants, will help to replace 1,638MW of traditional generating capacity.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsFlorida Utility Plans World’s Largest Battery Combined With Solar

New Fuel Cell Could Help Fix The Renewable Energy Storage Problem

on March 15, 2019

If we want a shot at transitioning to renewable energy, we’ll need one crucial thing: technologies that can convert electricity from wind and sun into a chemical fuel for storage and vice versa. Commercial devices that do this exist, but most are costly and perform only half of the equation. Now, researchers have created lab-scale gadgets that do both jobs. If larger versions work as well, they would help make it possible—or at least more affordable—to run the world on renewables.

The market for such technologies has grown along with renewables: In 2007, solar and wind provided just 0.8% of all power in the United States; in 2017, that number was 8%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But the demand for electricity often doesn’t match the supply from solar and wind. In sunny California, for example, solar panels regularly produce more power than needed in the middle of the day, but none at night, after most workers and students return home.

Some utilities are beginning to install massive banks of batteries in hopes of storing excess energy and evening out the balance sheet. But batteries are costly and store only enough energy to back up the grid for a few hours at most. Another option is to store the energy by converting it into hydrogen fuel. Devices called electrolyzers do this by using electricity—ideally from solar and wind power—to split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas, a carbon-free fuel. A second set of devices called fuel cells can then convert that hydrogen back to electricity to power cars, trucks, and buses, or to feed it to the grid.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsNew Fuel Cell Could Help Fix The Renewable Energy Storage Problem