What’s Next for Solar Energy Markets?

The last couple of years have seen huge growth in the solar industry. Major players such as Suntech Power and SolarCity have seen their stock prices more than double, and recently, Solyndra, a major solar company that received a lot of government support, filed for bankruptcy. In the meantime, prices for solar panels have dropped by 70% due to increased competition, and the solar industry has been shaken up by the rise of solar leasing.

But despite these challenges, the future of solar energy seems more promising than ever. There are a number of new technologies that could further decrease the cost of producing solar energy, making it less expensive for consumers. In this article, we will discuss five technologies that are set to revolutionize solar power.

1. Storage

One of the major limitations of solar energy is that the sun doesn’t always shine, and when it doesn’t, the energy produced is wasted. Because of this, many people have looked into ways to store the energy produced by solar panels, either using batteries or other energy sources such as diesel generators or wind turbines. While both have their perks, neither is ideal. Batteries need to be recharged and can’t provide the same level of energy as fuel cells, while diesel generators are expensive to run and can’t store the energy produced by solar panels for very long.

The solution to this conundrum is storage. While we still don’t have an ideal solution, several companies are working hard to develop a better alternative. The most promising storage solution may be the pumped-storage hydroelectric facility. By storing energy produced by solar panels during peak hours and returning it when needed, companies like Stem can provide continuous power to consumers and businesses, effectively solving the energy storage problem.

2. Mini-grids

For those living in rural areas or on islands off the mainland, having access to electricity is still very limited. One way to provide electricity to these locations is through mini grids. A mini grid is a small network of microgrids that connect together to provide backup power during peak hours. Since microgrids operate in smaller geographic areas, they can be built in a more localized manner, reducing the cost of construction and increasing reliability. When used in conjunction with solar power, mini grids provide a reliable source of electricity that can be accessed anywhere.

3. Demand response

There are a number of reasons why demand response is important for the solar industry. First, during times of low solar energy production, demand response allows utilities to meet the power needs of their customers more efficiently. In order to do this, utilities will work with customers to ensure there is enough electricity available when needed, all while providing a reliable source of power. Second, demand response can help utilities decrease their energy consumption during peak hours, when electricity usage is at its highest. Third, utilities can use demand response mechanisms to improve the efficiency of their power plants, leading to more clean energy production. Fourth, because of all of the feedback mechanisms built into demand response, utilities can accurately gauge the power needs of their customers, reducing the likelihood of oversupply or insufficient power.

However, not all demand response programs are made equal. Some businesses, like EnerNOC, utilize a program known as Customer Owned Distribution Service (CODS), whereby electricity is generated at the customer site and delivered via a high-voltage power line. As the customer owns the power line, they can receive power from any generation source they choose, including solar. This form of demand response is more efficient than traditional utility-based demand response as it eliminates the middleman and allows for more control over the process.

4. Virtual power plants

While mini grids and demand response provide significant benefits to the solar industry, they each have their limitations. Mini grids are only as good as the utilities that create them, and demand response can only address the demand side of the equation. The solution to this conundrum is a virtual power plant. A virtual power plant is a combination of the two, incorporating the benefits of both and reducing the limitations of each. In a nutshell, a virtual power plant allows for real-time control over the power generated by solar, effectively generating electricity at will.

A major benefit of a virtual power plant is that it allows utilities to engage with their customers in a more individualized manner. Instead of simply offering a fixed rate schedule, a virtual power plant allows utilities to tailor their power supply to meet the needs of their customers while also maximizing their revenue. For example, if a customer is mostly located in a certain area and there isn’t enough power being generated at the nearest solar plant, the utility can bring online additional solar panels or a small wind turbine to supplement the amount of power being produced. In return, the customer will provide feedback on how the power is being used, increasing the efficiency of both parties.

5. Dark markets

Even more so than with traditional retail, selling solar technology and other forms of green energy in an online marketplace can be tricky. Since these markets operate in the dark, all transactions take place in the absence of direct sunlight. This lack of transparency makes it harder for customers to determine the true price of the product they are purchasing, leading to all sorts of price fluctuations and potential scams. The best way to combat this problem is with an escrow service. An escrow service holds the money from the sale of a product until both parties sign a contract confirming the sale. This way both sides know that funds are being accounted for and no funny business is occurring.

While we are not saying that all escrow services are created equal, many are completely trustworthy and provide several valuable services, like the verification of an employees ID and a mailing package being delivered, that increase the security of on-line transactions and provide customers with peace of mind.

Regardless of which form the electricity generation market takes, new technologies are making solar power more affordable and easier to install. Not only are solar panels becoming cheaper to purchase, but the cost of installation is decreasing, due in large part to the efforts of utilities working with large-scale installers to provide low-cost installation options and subsidies.

The Bottom Line

The rise of the solar industry is proof that businesses can succeed in an environmentally conscious manner, but it isn’t a smooth ride. The technology is still in its infancy and faces many challenges, but the future of solar power seems very promising.

Many large companies have billions of dollars invested in the technology, and for good reason. Photovoltaic solar technology is, in many ways, a perfect match for large and small businesses alike. The technology is decentralized, offering increased reliability while also decreasing the need for major upgrades and maintenance. Plus, due to its minimalistic approach, it is often more cost-effective to install.

In the coming years, as the industry matures and more businesses and homeowners opt for alternative energy sources, the demand for solar power will only continue to rise.

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