How The Humble Chairlift Could Revolutionize Renewable Energy

on November 18, 2019

What do you see when you imagine a zero-carbon future? Electric buses zipping by? Rolling hills covered with solar panels? Offshore wind farms towering over the sea? If batteries are part of your vision, good thinking. But there’s a promising, if whimsical, piece of the renewable energy puzzle that might be missing from your mental picture: the world of gravity energy storage.

When the grid depends on clean but sporadic natural resources like wind and the sun, we’re going to need ways to capture any extra energy they produce so we can use it later. Lithium-ion batteries help solve that problem, but they have limitations. They degrade over time, and they aren’t suited to store energy for months-long periods, like a seasonal stretch of gray skies or motionless air.

Enter gravity energy storage. Generating electricity using gravity is hardly a new concept — think of your classic hydropower plant, which captures the energy of falling water via a turbine. But some hydropower systems don’t just produce energy. A “pumped-storage” hydroelectric plant draws excess energy from the grid and uses it to pump water back up into an elevated reservoir where it can fall again. When full, the upper reservoir is like a charged battery, ready to be deployed for weeks or months at a time, depending on how much water it holds.

The United States already uses pumped-storage hydropower. In fact, it currently accounts for 95 percent of our utility-scale energy storage. But it’s tough to add a new pumped-storage project to the grid — it requires building a dam and creating new reservoirs, which are expensive and politically unpopular. Two-thirds of existing pumped-storage hydropower plants were built in the 1970s and 1980s. Only one new plant has come online in the past fourteen years.

But who needs water when there are all kinds of things we can slide down a mountain or drop off a cliff? Really, you can use almost any material for gravity energy storage, as long as it’s heavy, cheap, and you can figure out how to transport it up and down a steep slope.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsHow The Humble Chairlift Could Revolutionize Renewable Energy

NEC Energy Solutions Integrates Stem’s AI-driven Software To Simplify Large-Scale Solar + Storage Deployment

on November 6, 2019

NEC Energy Solutions, headquartered in Westborough, Mass., is partnering with Stem to simplify solar + storage projects. Through a master supply agreement, Stem will resell and integrate its Athena AI platform with NEC’s GSS end-to-end grid storage solution. The agreement will result in a powerful solar + storage solution for large-scale projects, leveraging NEC’s AEROS proprietary energy storage controls and Stem’s sophisticated Athena AI platform to perform solar and storage optimization, wholesale market participation services, solar charging compliance and reporting, and warranty compliance and administration.

“We expect over $50 billion to be spent on U.S. energy storage projects between now and 2030. Solar + storage is one of the quickest growing and exciting segments,” said Logan Goldie-Scot, head, Energy Storage at BloombergNEF. “The partnership between NEC and Stem offers a new option to developers looking for an experienced and safe storage provider that can also help monetize the assets in an increasingly complex trading environment.”

The addition of NEC products to the Stem portfolio brings a DC-coupled solution to the front-of-meter solar + storage market. With only a single point of interconnection, DC-coupled front-of-meter solutions are typically more efficient for energy production, less expensive to deploy than AC-coupled systems and support cost-effective time shifting of excess solar.

What’s cool
Stem will pair NEC’s offerings with its Athena software, which helps developers address the most complex aspects of solar + storage projects. The collective intelligence of the Athena and AEROS platforms enable users to predict battery operational costs, and layer on market knowledge, forecasting, and participation with known operating constraints such as ITC limitations and SMART program rules. Developers and asset owners will be able to increase the value of their project throughout its lifetime by automating energy trades based on different market scenarios.

“Stem’s decade of expertise coupled with more than 125 MWh booked in the last ten months alone, enables us to advise on the entire storage project lifecycle – from which batteries are best suited for a project and how to configure them, to optimizing them across their lifetime, managing federal and state incentive compliance and maximizing the financial return by participating in energy markets,” said Stem COO Mark Triplett.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsNEC Energy Solutions Integrates Stem’s AI-driven Software To Simplify Large-Scale Solar + Storage Deployment

An Energy Breakthrough Could Store Solar Power for Decades

on November 4, 2019

For decades, scientists have sought an affordable and effective way of capturing, storing, and releasing solar energy. Researchers in Sweden say they have a solution that would allow the power of the sun’s rays to be used across a range of consumer applications—heating everything from homes to vehicles.

Scientists at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg have figured out how to harness the energy and keep it in reserve so it can be released on demand in the form of heat—even decades after it was captured. The innovations include an energy-trapping molecule, a storage system that promises to outperform traditional batteries, at least when it comes to heating, and an energy-storing laminate coating that can be applied to windows and textiles. The breakthroughs, from a team led by researcher Kasper Moth-Poulsen, have garnered praise within the scientific community. Now comes the real test: whether Moth-Poulsen can get investors to back his technology and take it to market.

The system starts with a liquid molecule made up of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. When hit by sunlight, the molecule draws in the sun’s energy and holds it until a catalyst triggers its release as heat. The researchers spent almost a decade and $2.5 million to create a specialized storage unit, which Moth-Poulsen, a 40-year-old professor in the department of chemistry and chemical engineering, says has the stability to outlast the 5-to 10-year life span of typical lithium-ion batteries on the market toda

The most advanced potential commercial use the team developed is a transparent coating that can be applied to home windows, a moving vehicle, or even clothing. The coating collects solar energy and releases heat, reducing electricity required for heating spaces and curbing carbon emissions. Moth-Poulsen is coating an entire building on campus to showcase the technology. The ideal use in the early going, he says, is in relatively small spaces. “This could be heating of electrical vehicles or in houses.”

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsAn Energy Breakthrough Could Store Solar Power for Decades

California Offers Extra Solar, Storage Incentives After Wildfires And Shut-Offs

on October 28, 2019

Communities most likely to be affected by both the effects of and the response to devastating wildfires which have wreaked havoc on California will be given extra incentive to install solar-plus-storage at their properties.

In addition to the impact of the fires themselves, the latter part of this year saw utility PG&E, already facing bankruptcy proceedings relating to liabilities for previous fires, shut off power to more than a million people in areas where outlying substations, wires and cables from the grid are mapped out to be at risk from high winds and falling trees.

A series of fires in the past few days alone has led to up to 2.7 million people losing electricity in the PG&E service area by yesterday (27 October).

While shut-offs had been considered a prudent move by the utility, one of California’s three main investor-owned utility (IOU) companies, to do so, there has been criticism of the short notice given to customers on around 700,000 grid connection points, some of whom will lose power for several days at a time.

While deliberation is ongoing on how PG&E has handled the matter, in the meantime there has been a response from the California Public Utilies Commission which has responded by making some adjustments to the state’s Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP).

Described by research firm Navigant as “one of the longest running and most successful distributed energy incentive programmes globally”, SGIP will pay out over half a billion dollars to technologies including renewable and non-renewable generation, as well as large and small scale energy storage. It also has a provision for encouraging adoption in lower-income communities, the Equity Budget.

SGIP precedes California’s recently introduced 100% renewables targets and was one of the main initiatives at both public and private level examined in-depth by Strategen Consulting’s Janice Lin and Jack Chang in a recent feature article.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsCalifornia Offers Extra Solar, Storage Incentives After Wildfires And Shut-Offs

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