Solar energy in the domestic and commercial markets have struggled to see the levels of adoption that the renewable energy industry – and anyone concerned with carbon emissions – had hoped.
This is primarily down to the problems of energy storage.
However, with storage technologies developing rapidly, we could be on the cusp of a solar revolution as self-generated power becomes economically viable for people and businesses alike.
As things stand, the domestic solar market is hampered by a lack of viable storage technology.
While many homeowners like the idea of generating their own solar energy, that energy is produced entirely during the daytime while most of their energy usage is in the evening. This is highly inefficient, as energy produced during the day only offsets daytime energy use – a time when the demand for electricity is low.
At peak times, when the tariffs are at their most expensive, they have to import energy.
With a viable on-site storage solution, that solar energy collected during the day could be stored for use in the evening when demand is high, while energy can be imported from the grid during the day when demand is at its lowest.
Fortunately, advances in battery technology are accelerating and many industry experts expect that these domestic energy storage solutions will be available for early adopters within the next 5 years.
There are also other ways that solar energy may become more financially viable over the next few years, and a significant number of them come from the smart home industry.
As appliances get smarter, smart homes will be able to detect periods of low demand (and low price) in order to import energy for the activation of power-hungry appliances.
You might find that you leave for work in the morning having loaded the washing machine, and left it up to your smart home to decide when the best time to run the cycle would be. Then, while you’re poring over spreadsheets and writing emails, your home is washing and drying your clothes in the most energy efficient way possible.
These advances in smart home technology will increase energy efficiency, helping to improve the cost efficiency of running your home.
Of course, this relies on storage technology developing quickly over the coming years in order to utilise self-generated energy during peak times, and the utility companies making variable tariffs the norm for domestic consumers.
For domestic and commercial uses, solid-state and flow-state batteries are likely to remain the most viable options.
For solid-state, improvement will likely come from tackling the problems with efficiency and degradation due to problems with full discharge. With the rise of the electric car, these types of battery will benefit from economies of scale, meaning that they can be manufactured more cheaply with so many of them being made.
Flow-state will likely be adopted more widely for commercial use as they last much longer and at scale can benefit far more effectively from automation.
Other technologies such as Hydrogen, Air and Pumped Hydro are also in the mix, though these technologies are likely to be a little ways off becoming economically viable against the established solid-state and flow-state solutions.
What is certain is that governments and energy companies are pushing for developments in storage technology as part of a plan to bring renewable energy in to the mainstream. And with so many players working on these technologies as such a rapid pace, we can expect the next few years to bring a real boom in the solar energy market.