Tag Archives: Energy Storage Market

Solar Power International: Moving into Second Gear?

It’s a challenge to summarize what transpired over four days at an event with 600 exhibits, 70 concurrent sessions (forcing choice between 6 at a time), 15 manufacturer-sponsored hands-on training sessions, 10 workshops, plenary sessions, parties and, oh, did I mention solar-supportive keynote remarks by Vice President Joe Biden to an enthusiastic audience.  With participants from over 75 countries, it’s easy to see why Solar Power International (SPI) claims to be the largest and fastest growing solar conference in North America.  But let me try to extract a few themes from this mid-September event sprawled across all four Exhibit Halls at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Clearly the industry is growing.  In advance of the conference, the Solar Energy Industry Association and GTM Research released their quarterly update.  With 1,393 Megawatts of PV capacity installed in the second quarter, the US Solar industry remains on track for an annual forecast total of 7,700 MW.   Of this, 840 MW (60%) was installed in California.  (A brief reminder that the capacity of a typical nuclear powerplant is 1,000 MW.)  The fact that the California Senate and Assembly passed SB350 increasing the state’s current Renewable Energy target of 30% by 2020 to 50% by 2030 days before SPI added to the conference’s buoyancy.  Repeatedly cited was the statistic that California has over 55,000 employees working in the industry (more employees than the state’s top 5 utilities combined).

Clearly the industry faces challenges.  The major one is the currently scheduled expiration of the 30% residential tax credit and reduction of the commercial investment tax credit (ITC) from 30% to 10% fifteen months from now, the Administration’s request for a permanent extension of the ITC not withstanding. A Bloomberg forecast released at the conference anticipates that without an extension, 2017 will see installation activity dropping to its 2012 level.  The loss of the tax credit would hit California’s businesses as hard as elsewhere.  In addition, the fact that California’s Public Utility Commission (CPUC) is in the process of redesigning the utility rate structure, including deciding on an appropriate level of compensation for customers who generate their own solar energy, has the industry on edge.  Utilities have requested the compensation (or credits) allowed solar customers be reduced by 40%, and that fixed fees be added to solar users’ bills.  (If this sounds completely contrary to the legislative action on SB350 cited above, welcome to the world of Government.)

But beneath these Good News / Bad News headlines, several themes emerged that cut across the gazillion specific new product and service announcements.

Energy Storage developments are booming with a variety of technologies and products. Over 50 firms provided products or services related to Storage.  Those in California are as diverse as 90-year old Trojan Battery Company of Santa Fe Springs and Milpitas-based JuiceBox Energy, a start-up barely out of the garage.  Many clustered together on the exhibit floor in a zone known as the “Energy Storage Pavilion.” The CPUC mandate to the state’s three largest Utilities and other energy service providers to procure 1.3 GW of energy storage by 2020 creates an immediate market in California.  And the recognition that commercial electric customers can utilize storage to reduce their bills through reductions in their peak demand charges creates a market rationale for growing storage demand beyond the utility mandate.

Finance is another area experiencing dramatic change.   While the discussion only a couple years ago focused on lease or buy, a plethora of new financial instruments and capital sources have emerged.  Sessions and exhibits provided information on new approaches to debt financing for non-residential projects (which appears to focus on financial support for Commercial and Industrial (C&I) customers, a growing solar niche), Tax equity markets, and the pooling of solar project cash flows (in what’s become known as a YieldCo).  The good news is that investors (not just system owners) are seeing value (!) in PV installations.

And of course there were new panel developments, racking system improvements, Inverter advances and the like.

So what’s the take-away?  The Solar industry is growing through its increased cost-competitiveness as a result of new product and service innovation. This dynamic was well captured by Vice President Biden’s comment, “Anyone who thinks it (Solar) is not happening just take a look at the market.  It’s a competitive choice for consumers. …  Look, this isn’t a government mandate, this is the market working.”  Yes, but the uncertain future of tax credits and utility pushback (in California and elsewhere) continue the uphill slog.

Beyond batteries: The diverse technologies vying for the bulk storage market

By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive

All the talk in the electric utility industry these days seems to be about battery storage, but there are other ways to save generated electricity for later.

With more demanding state renewable portfolio standards, the finalization of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and utilities increasingly turning to renewables as a least-cost option, grid operators are likely to need more and bigger storage options by the mid-2020s, if not before.

“The excitement in the market now is around the policies we have in place, which very specifically exclude big pumped hydro applications,” explained California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA) Sr. Advisor Mark Higgins, the VP/COO at Strategen Consulting. “Those policies were designed to create a diversity of technologies. Bulk storage would work against that.”

But, Higgins said, by around 2024, when California gets to about 40% renewables, there will be a real need to shift excess renewable energy supplies from the middle of the day to the late afternoon and evening. “That will require storage resources that can handle big amounts of energy over long periods of time.” Higgins expects California regulators to again take the lead, as they did with the AB 2514 policy now driving battery technology growth, and put in place incentives for long duration storage technologies. Following is an overview of some of the diverse technologies vying for the bulk storage market…

Read full article from Utility Dive

InterSolar 2015: Industry Growth or Decline is Up to Us

By Gerald W. Bernstein
Managing Editor, California Solar

One advantage of living in San Francisco is that the world periodically beats a path to our doorstep. For solar professionals and aficionados, this has happened for the past eight July’s with InterSolar North America at the Moscone Convention Center, the show claiming the highest attendance of any solar event in North America. I have attended these since 2012, by which time attendance had reached approximately 18,000 visitors (excluding exhibitors), a level it has since sustained.

What I find interesting in trade shows is walking the exhibit floors, talking with company reps, talking with press people who have attended many conferences over time, and “taking the pulse” of the event. InterSolar expands this opportunity with the companion conference comprised of 45 sessions on a variety of solar topics and over 200 speakers at the InterContinental Hotel next door.

This year’s emerging issue was storage. Conference sessions, press announcements and exhibits provided perspectives on utility scale, commercial, institutional and residential-scale systems with possibly favorable economics (subject of course to the individual user’s tariff structure) and numerous non-quantifiable benefits. But what I sensed as the mood of the show was different. I will be surprised if the organizers write “the mood of the show was optimistic” (as followed the 2012 show) or “the mood of the show was very optimistic” (as followed the 2013 show). I found exhibitors enthusiastic about their products, but I would not describe them as “optimistic.” More telling was the observation of a long-time attendee that the number of exhibitors was down to perhaps 500 this year from 750+ a few years earlier. (And yes there have been recent consolidations, but when have there not been?)

The conference and plenary sessions I attended also conveyed two tones. Industry (including trade association) leaders spoke of the growing number of megawatts and gigawatts of installed PV in an increasing number of states. Declining installation costs were often cited as a driver for future sales, driven both by declining panel prices and by reductions in other (balance-of-system and soft) costs. Individual states have additional demand drivers, such as the proposed RPS increase to 50% in California (in 2030), growing demand for community shared solar systems, and efforts to develop carbon cap & trade systems or markets.

But the elephant in the room (actually, overhanging all events) was clearly the possible effect of the 30% investment tax credit reduction to 10% for commercial investors and the possible elimination of the 30% tax credit for homeowners at the end of 2016. Some speakers minimized these impacts in light of favorable demand drivers such as those above. Conversely, one speaker (citing findings from an unnamed Stanford Business School-George Washington University study I have not been able to identify) warned listeners to “expect a massive drop in the PV industry.”

Yet the dominant theme of speakers was that solar does not have to be a political issue. There are blue and red state customers of solar technology who benefit from lower electric costs. Benefits accrue to rural and urban families. Individuals of all beliefs need to let their senators and representatives know that extending the tax benefits is good for consumers, businesses and the 170,000 individuals employed in this industry.

No one can realistically predict what will happen to the solar industry after the 2016 reduction in tax credits. But one thing seems certain: if we all participate in determining governmental policies regarding solar energy, we can build on recent success. If we stand up for solar, if we become even more engaged, more active, more committed to influencing decision-makers, thought leaders, and policy wonks — that can only bring benefit to our planet.