Amid a rush of global offerings, solar storage systems are now commonplace and much improved, writes Melissa Hancock
There was no shortage of innovative products and services vying for attention at this year’s Intersolar held in Munich from 20-22 June but it was arguably both the prevalence and prominence of new solar storage system solutions that stole the show.
Whereas in the past the key challenge was in developing renewable energy– the focus has subsequently shifted to the challenge of storing it.
Today, nearly all solar energy companies have either developed storage systems or are actively doing so in recognition of the fact that solar energy solutions can only achieve true scale in tandem with efficient energy storage. The greatest efficiency – and profit margin – is currently offered by battery storage systems, as this technology is already extremely advanced.
“What is really noticeable at this year’s Intersolar compared to previous years is that everyone’s now looking at energy storage,” Adrian Polec, board member of Prime Motors told Impact4All on the sidelines of the Intersolar Europe conference.
“This is the first year in which I’m seeing so much action in that regard. Last year there were just a few companies with solutions but I’m now seeing that almost everyone has a solution for energy storage at some level. It’s not complicated to develop and so we expect to see a lot of progress on this front in the future.”
I’m now seeing that almost everyone has a solution for energy storage at some level
Headquartered in Romania, Prime Motors is a specialised hardcore technology company that focuses on producing tailor made battery packs and is also a key provider of Lithium battery solutions in Europe.
“A lot of solar PV panels are deregulating the grid because every time a cloud passes over the panel, there is a drop in the production of current. The way we make batteries, we now have a buffer to regulate the grid,” said Polec.
“Almost every PV panel producer and installer today has an energy storage system to go with it and this is good news for us because energy storage has a real future.”
Another company exhibiting at Intersolar Europe this year that has put energy storage at its centre is Germany’s Sonnen.
Established in 2010, Sonnen is today the world’s largest energy storage system company for private households and small businesses, as well as being the global market leader for Lithium iron phosphate batteries. It has supplied more than 120,000 people with electricity from renewable energy sources and installed more than 30,000 battery storage units worldwide.
“We launched our first storage system here in 2011 at Intersolar and people were laughing at us because they were wondering who needs a box and a storage system,” Steffen Schneider, managing director and CFO of Sonnen told Impact4All at Intersolar.
“And today there’s a complete hall full of just storage systems. In 2017 we generated €65.2m of revenues so the fact that we are the global market leader gives you an idea of how small the market still is. It’s developing very rapidly, however there’s still a long way to go.”
Schneider says that Sonnen’s current focus is on its core markets of Germany, Austria and Switzerland followed by Italy, Australia and the US from which a lot of growth opportunities originate – not only from the sale of hardware, (i.e. the actual storage systems), but also from connecting the various systems to a power plant.
“When I joined Sonnen in 2014, our average payback period was 25 years and now in Germany it is down to between eight to 10 years and 6-8 years in Australia because of greater sunshine etc and we see it falling further,” said Schneider.
“We really see the market exploding at the moment where the payback period will be five years – this will come from further cost downs in batteries and inverters.”
Indeed, falling battery prices continue to make stationary energy storage a lucrative solution for businesses and homeowners around the world. China’s BYD, which is known for its electric buses and SkyRail, has also been developing its stationary energy storage solutions. It exhibited its two new energy storage products – both residential and commercial – at Intersolar Europe this year, with the BYD Modular Outdoor Energy Storage System (ESS) being nominated for the 2018 Electrical Energy Storage Award.
What makes BYD’s Modular Outdoor ESS unique is its module design that allows for customisation with purchase of the system, but also for additional storage capacity to be added or removed over time, which would not be possible with a fixed-capacity battery system.
BYD’s Modular Outdoor ESS also offers twice the energy density compared to its previous offering. The cost per unit has dropped by 20 per cent while also being more efficient to install – both these factors also make the new system cheaper to install.
“Solar is already very cost competitive when compared to other energy generation sources if you look at the full cost basis,” said Schneider.
“Sonnen and the solar industry more broadly needs to build on that trend – we need to focus on the cost downs to reduce the payback period, and then more people will invest, which in turn will drive the energy revolution.”