In previous posts, we’ve discussed the introduction of Tesla’s new energy storage batteries for both residential and commercial use. This is of particular interest, as the topic of energy storage has really grabbed the attention of industry leaders and professionals throughout the 2015 year, and will continue to remain a hot topic throughout the new year and beyond -- particularly with regards as to how it relates to the grid. The belief is that as the growth of electric vehicles and other non-vehicle battery applications surge, the cost of battery storage will decrease, thus impacting the energy market.
Of great interest is the notion that the combination of rooftop solar systems and energy storage capabilities could possibly persuade customers to become completely independent of the grid -- and whether or not that’s truly possible. As it stands, solar panels alone don’t enable homes and businesses to be entirely self-sufficient. Both the daily and seasonal occurrence rate of sunlight does not align with the electricity demands of a typical household or enterprise during its peaks and troughs. As a result, net metering (the ability of PV owners to sell their excess power to utilities as a means of using the grid as a free battery) has created controversy in some markets.
If a consumer were to truly go off the grid, though, net metering wouldn’t even be available. As a result, a means of onsite energy storage would need to be available as a way of shifting the kilowatt-hours of energy produced via a PV array in time. In order for this to work, the PV and storage system would need to be properly sized for the delivery of ample instantaneous peak power during intermittent high-load events such as starting up a climate control system. Daily variations can be wide, featuring multiple spikes that are much higher than the typical output of an array.
An off-grid model, then, would require a PV and storage that were optimized to meet all of the different load demands for the customer, per hour, given a battery that is capable of holding three days of storage. Currently, this would equal multiple Tesla Powerwall units. It would only be practical in the event that we see drastic cost reductions in PV and battery storage in the coming years.
Experts aren’t just interested in considering these facts as a means of proposing an “off-grid future”, but also to take a look at the future of the electric power grid itself, and what energy storage could mean for it and the world as a whole. If as many customers made the switch to self-storage as people transitioned away from landlines to cellular services, we could see the demise of traditional utilities -- even the “smart” power grid. At the same time, the value of flexible generation and fuel would drop.
Various studies, however, have concluded that regardless of the assumption of low-cost PV and storage, the prospect of users moving entirely away from the grid is remote. It is expected that the costs involved with going off-grid would likely be more expensive than the predicted costs of electricity in 2025. The use of smart technologies and other cost-saving tactics will enable utilities to keep electricity prices low enough that they will still appeal to end users.
But while going off-grid isn’t likely to be the lowest-cost option for the majority of consumers, that doesn’t mean that some won’t decide to go this route. We should still pay attention to distributed energy, as it may become more competitive in the future or even offer valuable services to the grid. Generally, though, we can view distributed energy as a compliment to the grid rather than a substitute for it.
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