By Brent Sauser
As greater advancements are being made with solar panel technology focus is turning to improving energy storage system (ESS) capability. Improvements in the ESS arena are lagging behind the advancements with other PV system components. Substantial improvements to inverter and micro-inverter systems, tracking software, installation methods, and PV panels are a matter of commercial record. In a Net Zero context, the Net Zero installation would be connected to the utility grid via net-metering. Energy storage is not included in this system (yet).
A Net Zero design presents an interesting dilemma. That is,renewable power is being generated during daylight hours when typically the home is not occupied. It is during the evening hours that the occupants are home, after sundown, when renewable solar power is no longer being generated. Reliance on the utility grid is required to provide power after dusk. So, in essence, we are selling unused renewable power to the utility during the day only to buy it back after sundown. Under this scenario becoming Net Zero still includes a substantial dependency on the utility grid. From a monetary standpoint, going 100% Net Zero has proven financial benefits. But in the strict sense of being energy independent, a Net Zero solution must include an ESS to be able to proudly claim the title of sustainable.
The movement toward low cost and efficient energy storage systems is still in the research phase. In the short term lithium-ion storage is being used, but is understood to be a temporary solution at best. It is high priced and short lived . . . . not a favorable combination when you consider a 5kW gasoline generator is low cost and effective (but very loud) during emergencies. Research in flywheel storage, hydrogen, fuel cell, and various types of liquid storage is being tested, but years from the commercial marketplace. One area of ESS research that is showing real promise is with nonoparticle flow batteries. Still about 5 years away from mass distribution, flow batteries are a potentially low cost and efficient solution to making a Net Zero system affordable and sustainable . . . . without dependence on the utility gird.
I suggest that all Net Zero designs include a location in the system to allow for the incorporation of an energy storage system in the future. As more and more buildings reduce their dependence on the utility grid, it is unknown how this government subsidized monopoly will react. However, it is not unrealistic to anticipate higher user fees and rising electricity prices to compensate for their losses. All signs point to making plans to get off the “gird” entirely. Step one is to become Net Zero with net-metering. Step two can be implemented once ESS technology becomes more efficient and cost effective. We have less than two years before the federal tax incentives run out for solar PV installations (Dec 2016). Let’s make plans now to take advantage of this offer. It is very possible that after this time will come the penalty phase that could take even more money out of our pocket. Let’s take control of our energy needs.
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