Solar+storage still "on the cusp of greatness"

“We’re on the cusp of great things with solar and energy storage.”

Truer words have never been spoken, and we hear them again and again. After more than five years of serious talk about solar+storage, the market is still “emerging.” The general theme after a full day of energy storage education sessions at Solar Power International/Energy Storage International was a feeling of both excitement and frustration.

National residential installers seem to be excited about storage.

“The great thing about storage is there are so many use cases for it,” said Audrey Lee, VP of energy services for Sunrun, mentioning that while California focuses on time-of-use rates, the East Coast is looking for backup power. “The conversation is changing. Solar-only is all about savings, but with storage, you get all these other value propositions.”

Research firms also see excitement around solar+storage in specific markets. Andrea Romano, associate director with Navigant Research, said she sees great promise for storage within the quickly growing community solar market.

“We’re just at the beginning of what community storage looks like,” she said. “Community batteries allow utilities and their members to address the demand components of the utility bill. There is a lot of opportunity for community solar and community storage.”

On the opposite end, some utilities are feeling frustrated that the latest and greatest storage technologies are outpacing policy changes. Howard Smith, manager of DER policy with Southern Company Services, said he hopes policy updates and customer needs meet in the middle, so things like smart home technologies can function with the grid and benefit both the customer and utility.

“We are driven by customer needs, desires, technology and cost,” he said. “[Energy storage is] a new evolution that we’re trying to catch up with. Policy is behind the curve. What we’re used to as utilities is changing.”

While true, there are many opportunities for utilities to include storage in their power plans. Manal Yamout, senior VP of policy and markets with Advanced Microgrid Solutions, said the commercial solar market is opening up more conversations about how storage can be used as a bigger picture option.

“I think the real opportunity that wouldn’t have been talked about five years ago is aggregating many [solar+storage] systems together,” so the utility can operate them as a mini power station, she said.

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