Storage critical for growth of solar energy use

| by Farah Ahmad
Storage critical for growth of solar energy use

New York’s unprecedented Superstorm Sandy stranded millions across New York City in a dynamic blackout, forcing its victims to survive months without basic utilities. Staten Islanders were powerless— a state of helplessness lit in the darkness only by some glimmer of hope. Now months later, we must emerge critically and question how cities can minimize the impacts of such widespread damage. The overwhelming system failures of the city’s power grid forces alternate resolutions for power sources.

What is wrong with current ways of electric transmission? Power grids are largely unreliable- their instability during storms, physical care necessary to maintain aging power lines and rising cost, coerce re-evaluation of our infrastructure. Additional facilities, i.e. power plants, are not the answer either. These environmental antagonists are large contributors to air pollution. The use of batteries can eliminate the construction of these facilities and new transmission lines. Power generators are a third flawed system; there is room for improvement. They produce noise, vibration, and smoke. Furthermore, their moving mechanical parts can fail and there is a limited supply. Additionally, when nightfall hits, the energy cannot be utilized. Generators also require fuel and contribute to air pollution.

The next time you find yourself saving up for residential amenities, consider a practical investment that will reduce strain on the grid, provide resiliency to the grid, and keep your home running smoothly with fewer failures. The implementation of a solar electric system with a battery backup provides tremendous potential. A typical solar electric system operates on several components: solar panels, an inverter to convert the solar electricity from DC energy into AC energy, a meter to display power storage and consumption data, a junction box, and, most importantly, a battery bank for power storage. A switch is also available for the system to prevent islanding (the transfer of power to the grid) during blackouts, and allows the system to safely power the home. Imagine this source as your own mini power grid!

What are the financial implications of such a system? Keep in mind certain benefits. Since the solar electric system can be connected to the power grid, you can essentially ‘sell’ that extra electricity, providing you with additional funds. New York State and New York City also provide tax incentives and credits. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) provides up to $1,400 per kW for 7 kW residential Photovoltaic (PV) systems, or 40% of the total installed system cost (whichever is less). New York State also provides a tax credit for either 25% of the total installed system cost after the NYSERDA incentive, or $5,000 (whichever is less). In addition, NYC homeowners who install the system between now and December 31, 2014 are eligible to receive a four year property tax abatement of 2.5% each year.

Graphic used with permission of Solar City

How about the environmental implications of a battery-based system? Energy storage via battery poses its own questions. What battery should we integrate with our systems? SolarWorld, a leading German Company for solar technology, has researched the environmental benefits of lithium ion as opposed to lead acid-based batteries. Studies indicate lithium-ion batteries have a longer product life and can store more solar power in a smaller size. Lead processing is also more energy intensive. However, in terms of disposal, lead is more widely recycled than lithium ion. NaS batteries are another possibility. They last longer than lead-acid batteries.

Several corporations are leading studies on the logistical implications of battery storage. American Electric Power (AEP), a large utility American company, has been testing these batteries in large quantities, and has found the battery to minimize the chances of a blackout. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and the California Energy Commission recently unveiled plans to unleash a sodium-sulfur battery energy storage project, which would allow energy to be stored for over six hours. SolarCity has released a battery system for California markets which may expand across the country. About the size of a solar inverter, the battery unit can keep basic needs thriving during an emergency. Important functions, such as charging your cell phone, running your refrigerator, and providing light, will also be served.

As we examine these facts, it becomes clear the initial startup cost of system implementation is a small investment compared to the reaped rewards over a period of time. A secondary system of energy is necessary to combat unpredictable occurrences and provide a stable solution to prevent millions of homeowners from being left in the dark. A solar electrical system could be the best solution for harnessing the excessive energy nature already provides and unleashing its potential to light the way for a more powerful future!

Topics: Photovoltaic / Solar Panels, Solar Power, Sustainability Trends & Statistics

Farah Ahmad

Farah Naz Ahmad was born in New York City and holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from The City College of New York. She is a LEED Accredited Professional in Building Design + Construction. Her career goal is to make an impact on the field of sustainability in design and construction. Her past roles as President of CCNY's American Institute of Architecture Students and as a team leader for the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon have increased her passion for eco-friendly design.

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