Innovative technologies, changing consumer habits and renewable energy sources have led to an unprecedented change in how we generate and consume energy. Today, the utility-scale solar industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, supporting over 100,000 jobs worldwide in related sectors (such as construction and procurement).
While solar power has long been used to provide energy for our homes and small businesses, the development of large-scale solar farms has led to entirely new potential utilization and customer profiles. Thanks to a boom in photovoltaic (PV) technology, affordable and reliable large-scale solar energy is now available for those looking to generate their own power. Those looking to invest in renewable energy may do so with relative confidence, as prices have taken a significant tumble, and the benefits of renewable energy are increasingly being recognized and supported by the public and private sectors alike.
But what happens when the sun isn’t shining, or if you want to store some power for later use? Fortunately, there are a number of innovative ways in which you can use large-scale solar energy, and this article will discuss the different storage options available for those seeking to do so.
The most fundamental and, perhaps, most obvious way to store solar power is to use batteries. Batteries can be used to accumulate and release power at will, allowing you to shift your generation output to meet your consumption needs. The most common and, perhaps, most familiar form of battery is the humble lead acid battery, which provides a low-cost and reliable means of storing energy. Batteries can also be used in conjunction with other energy storage technologies and devices for enhanced functionality (such as solar-powered water heaters that heat water for heat-sensitive applications).
But what is the cost and environmental impact of batteries? Although not free of charge, batteries are, generally speaking, inexpensive and are considered to have a minimal environmental impact. Batteries, as previously stated, accumulate power via a chemical reaction that doesn’t harm the environment in the slightest.
Energy management is, in essence, the control and use of energy to provide a service or good. In the case of solar generation, energy management may entail storing some of the power for later use (as described above), while shifting the rest to provide energy when needed. This can be done in a number of ways, with varying benefits and drawbacks. A common and, perhaps, most cost-effective solution is to use energy-efficient appliances and lighting coupled with the capacity to store excess energy via a battery or other means (such as an oil or gas furnace).
For those seeking to utilize solar power for all generating tasks, an energy management system may be the ideal solution. An energy management system allows you to maximize the benefit of direct sunlight while minimizing the financial and environmental costs. For example, if you store the energy generated by the sun during the day in order to meet your consumption needs at night, you’ll ensure that your expenses are minimal, while not harming the environment in any way.
Another, perhaps more complex, way of storing solar energy is to utilize the unique properties of sunlight to create an energy schedule. In order to do this, the power generated by the sun must first be measured (via a PV module) and then converted into a form that can be stored and used at a later date. One of the more popular ways of doing this is to use an hour-based electric meter, which allows the user to set the time of day when the meter will stop recording energy consumption. At the end of the month, the accumulated power will then be read off and a summary provided detailing the amount of energy consumed and the cost incurred. As an alternative to an electric meter, some energy storage systems may utilize an optical sensor that detects the amount of sunlight shining through a glass pane or wall and, based on this, determines how much power can be stored.
Off-peak power is essentially power that is neither consumed nor generated at a particular moment in time. Generated by, and only usable at, times when energy is cheaper, off-peak power is commonly stored in large batteries (as previously described) in order to provide affordable and sustainable electric power during peak periods. Typically, power generated during off-peak periods is between 15 and 30% cheaper than that produced during peak periods. During peak periods, electricity retailers and suppliers try to maximize revenue by increasing the price charged per unit of energy produced (up to a certain point). As a consequence, power that is unable to be sold at a high price during peak periods may be entirely wasted.
Peaking power is essentially power that is generated during a specific time period and used within a certain time frame. The amount of power needed to meet a peak demand may be much larger than that needed to meet the demand during other times of the day (or the same day), and so much higher prices may be charged to generate this extra capacity. The cost of generation and the environmental impact of peaking power are generally accepted as being greater than those of power produced during off-peak periods. However, the revenue that can be generated by charging higher tariffs during peak periods may make the effort and the cost-benefit analysis worthwhile.
Fluctuating power is essentially power that varies over time. A popular method of generating fluctuating power is via an inverter, which takes alternating current (AC) power at one voltage and converts it into direct current (DC) power with a variable voltage and frequency (depending on the type of load being driven). In order to reduce the cost of energy and the amount of harmful emissions, fluctuating power is commonly stored in large batteries, with the capacity to fluctuate anywhere between 400 watts and 600 watts.
As fluctuating power provides an opportunity to generate power at times when it is not needed (which may be more cost-effective than generating at peak times), many electricians and environmentalists consider it to be one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly forms of power generation available. However, it should be noted that fluctuations can be a source of stress for certain electrical appliances and equipment (as they may need to be periodically repaired or replaced).
Warping power is essentially power that changes over distance. An example of this would be the power produced by a solar farm located thousands of kilometers away that is used to supply power to an electrical grid connected to a local utility station (or, a large battery located near the solar farm). Due to the high cost of transmitting electricity over large distances, as well as the inefficiencies of doing so (resulting in significant power losses), many consider this form of power to be expensive and unsustainable. However, the ability to generate power at a location where it is needed (in this case, due to the high demand for electricity in the area) may make it worthwhile. It should be noted that the environmental impact of generating power at a location far from where it is required is generally accepted as being greater than that of power produced near to where it is needed. In order to minimize this impact, it is preferable to generate power as close to where it is needed as possible (ideally, with zero carbon emissions).
Tapping power is essentially power that can be drawn directly from the electric grid without the need to generate it yourself. Typically, tapping power is utilized during off-peak periods (when cheaper and more available) to generate power, which is stored in large batteries for later use during peak periods (when the cost of electricity is higher and more people are seeking power).
There are a number of unique ways that solar energy can be stored and used, allowing you to reap the benefits of large-scale solar energy while minimizing your costs and impact. As the industry continues to mature, more reliable and cost-effective ways of storing power will emerge.