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Why solar energy storage is the talk of the town

<p>Solar energy shines brightly in strengthen aging grids through energy storage, giving a big boost to utility companies.</p>

Faced with costly grid systems that bleed money and energy output, utilities are searching for a ray of sunshine to update hardware.

Increasing, that solution is coming from solar which is a growing segment of the energy storage market.

At the recent Intersolar North America conference in San Francisco, energy storage experts said that more utilities are making this big shift and turning to PV solar technology and it is transforming grid operations.

"We see solar energy and energy storage as a perfect fit," said Markus Elsaesser, CEO of  Solar Promotional International. "Especially in the area of commercial application and stabilizing power grids. We are convinced that we are about to see the market take off in the next few years."

The Intersolar North America conference brought together a mesh of solar, energy storage and grid companies as well as storage equipment developers. Many at the conference were optimistic about the industries growth, specifically the downward price point trend.

"In the future, prices for storage solutions and PV systems will decrease and new markets for PV storage solutions will develop," Elsaesser said.

In another boost, energy storage has seen an important evolution.

"We are producing energy and we are consuming energy at the same time. Our self-consumption and our storing of the energy allows for a more dynamic area," said Markus A.W. Hoehner, CEO and managing partner of Hoehner Research & Consulting Group of Germany.

"Today's use of PV energy storage system is used for the purpose of energy independence but over time that will continue to evolve in other areas," he said.

Meanwhile, big utility companies are taking tentative steps in developing energy storage systems for their aging grids.

"The applications are quite rich in storage and utilities can gain a lot from storage," said Tom McCalmont, president of McCalmont Engineering, which designs commercial solar systems. "They have a lot of challenges, however. Things like frequency regulations, being highly regulated, all of these issues utilities have to deal with all the time so it's good for them to distribute storage in their grid it actually helps them. So I think there will be an emerging market for utilities."

But replacing and updating grids is not for the faint of heart, McCalmont said. Utilities are flinching at the significant upfront costs.

"We're talking millions and millions of dollars for needed upgrades," he said. "So some companies are just putting off the inevitable. In the short term if they can avoid those expenses, even if it's just for 10 years, many utilities are electing to do just that."

Even accounting for the upfront costs, immediate benefits await utilities looking to make the energy storage commitment, McCalmont said.

"Demand charges are quite high in many states in U.S. and California and some are peak rates for demand are $25 per kilo watt, so it doesn't take much of a reduction in those kilowatts to have significant benefits," he said.

McCalmont said utilities are slowly lowering their guards and take advantage of the emerging solar storage industry.

"Utilities have always been somewhat hostile to distributed solar but they're going to have to realize over time that storage will truly benefit their operations," he said. "There are a lot of grid stability issues that must solve and so there's no way to avoid paying the cost of expensive equipment."


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