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Published on March 30th, 2014 | by Guest Contributor

14

Why Solar Isn’t Enough

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March 30th, 2014 by  

By Vic Shao 

The past few weeks of sunny weather have been paying off, literally, for California’s solar companies. On March 16th the state set a new record by drawing more than 16% of our energy use from solar energy. But even that isn’t enough for those of us that want to see our communities reach net zero.

“Net Zero” has become a rallying call for communities nationwide to ensure that new buildings do not add to the accumulation of greenhouse gases. The City of Cambridge recently kicked off a Net Zero Task Force to figure out how to implement a new, Net Zero building code. Lancaster, California has gone even farther with a mandate that all new single-family homes must come equipped with solar power.

Community-based solutions to attaining net zero energy, carbon, and water are gathering momentum. From Transition Towns in Europe, the over 500 cities in the US that have signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, and the new net zero laws, it’s clear that citizens all over the globe are demanding action.

But we must be careful to demand the right kind of action. Slapping solar panels on the roofs of all new buildings won’t work without a holistic shift in the way we use energy.

This shift starts with energy efficiency and ends with power efficiency. Changing light bulbs and turning down thermostats is a good start to ensure that we are using all of the energy we pull into our buildings in the most efficient way possible. Next is using intelligent energy storage solutions to eliminate peak use and ensure that we are using power efficiently across the grid.

The difference between energy (kWh) and power (kW) is becoming more widely known as more businesses and institutions pay 40% or more of their electric bill in demand charges. These so-called “demand charges” reflect the peak electricity use during a given period.

Unlike residential customers, who just pay a flat rate, businesses and institutions are required to pay for both the energy consumed (kWh) and the rate at which they consumed energy (kW) or “demand” charges. Because the energy needed by these organizations fluctuates greatly, the utility is required to keep a vast array of expensive equipment — transformers, wires, substations — on constant standby, a cost that it passes on to commercial customers in the form of kW charge.

Over the past decade, while kWh pricing has trended downwards, kW (demand) pricing has grown by more than 7% annually in California. Cities and towns that aim for Net Zero via solar must be careful that they don’t accidentally increase their demand charges.

Solar energy and electric vehicles both face the challenge of peak energy. Solar peaks when the sun goes down and electric vehicles require large amounts of electricity, both of which can lead to special demand charges that can increase electricity bills by more than 50%.

The market for combined solar PV and energy storage is growing with Lux Research predicting that it will represent $2.8B over the next five years. Additionally, we estimate that storage could boost investor returns on solar projects by as much as 15%.

Already we’re seeing signs of Net Zero communities using energy storage to achieve their greenhouse gas goals. We’re proud to partner with the City of Lancaster to install their first energy storage system in the High Desert.

It is my hope that more cities across the globe will begin to see the economic and environmental merits of a holistic approach to greenhouse gas reduction.

Vic Shao_mug_FINAL

About Vic Shao: Vic is Chief Executive Officer of Green Charge Networks, an intelligent energy storage startup based in Silicon Valley. Since 2009, Vic led the company through its US $12 million smart grid project with Con Edison of New York, the US Department of Energy, and Fortune 500 customers on an ROI-driven energy storage GreenStationTM.  With more than 15 years experience in software development and complex system implementation, Vic is passionate in applying software to improve power efficiency.

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  • jeffhre

    “But we must be careful to demand the right kind of action. Slapping solar panels on the roofs of all new buildings won’t work without a holistic shift in the way we use energy.”

    Trust that if solar panels were slapped on all buildings – there would be a “holistic shift in the way we use energy.” Supply and demand assures that, in the least of all potential possibilities!

    “We’re proud to partner with the City of Lancaster to install their first energy storage system in the High Desert.” Ohhh, well I’ll have to charge up the Volt and drive over to the other side of town to see that, LOL.

  • mds

    Nice article. Very clear. Thanks!

    • Jouni Valkonen

      Agreed, when I saw the headline I was prepare to write long rant how author cannot think “holisticly”, but article surprised very positively.

      As Elon iterated (again) that on a long term we will go to 100 % solar. The question is how fast that will happen. My guess is that it will happen much sooner than almost everybody expects.

      • Bob_Wallace

        And my guess is that it will never happen.

        Solar might get cheaper than wind. But since wind is now getting down to about 4c/kWh there’s not a lot of room to get cheaper. And other than the sunny hours the cost of solar is really the price of solar + storage.

        • Billy

          And that why you use a gas generator because to BS everyone in USA, works well.

        • Isak

          Compared to $400,000/GWh, there is an *enormous* (to me at least) potential to reduce the cost of electricity.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I don’t know what you mean with the “$400,000/GWH” stuff.

            Onshore wind in the US is being generated for about 5 cents per kWh. In the best condition solar is producing for about 6 cents. (Those are non-subsidized costs.)

            Let’s assume that the price of wind stays the same (which it won’t) and solar drops to half it’s current best price. We would now have a 2.5c spread between the cost of solar and wind. We’d have to invent some way to store solar for 2 cents or less in order to beat out wind.

            It’s almost certainly going to be cheaper to use electricity direct from wind than to store solar. And it’s going to be cheaper to use solar direct than to store wind.

            What we want to do is to figure out more and more ways to use power from wind/solar when it is generated. EVs are excellent at this. They sit plugged in for 90% of their life yet need only 1.5 hours per day of charging (on average). Got extra solar or wind? Charge EVs.

          • Calamity_Jean

            What we want to do is to figure out more and more ways to use power from wind/solar when it is generated.

            And there’s always “geographical diversification” or IOW put the power onto the grid and send it a few hundred miles away where it doesn’t happen to be sunny or windy right now. Next week they can return the favor.

  • JamesWimberley

    Nothing wrong with the post. It’s good to see how cheap solar is, not so gradually, disrupting the entire energy business, in a good way. It’s driving intelligent demand management and distributed storage, both behind individual meters and in communities, as Mr Shao says; but also smarter grids and more rational tariff models. The utilities are finding the change painful, but they will adapt.

  • Will E

    The more Solar the better because it is clean cheap and easy. Store it in your EV car battery,heat your house with heat pump, cook induction.
    endless supply.
    the money comes in every day when the sun shines.
    When you need more electricity, install more Solar panels.

    it is as easy as that.
    Every town city village should have their own Solar Power production plant.
    for the welfare of the people and and community economics.

    • mds

      You might want to read the article. He’s saying solar is great, but it needs to be integrated with storage to reduce costly peak demand on the grid when the sun goes down. He’s also pointing out energy conservation is an important part of the picture. Both are important considerations if you want to get to 100% renewable energy. That is the goal imo.

      • Forrealz

        Energy conservation? You’re a moron. The planet is growing, the population ever increasing, and people need energy. Solar is weak, wind energy is weak, generators are weak. Nobody has created a viable method for delivering all the energy needs to one community cheaply. Considering the United States wasted nearly 40% of its food, and you’re trying to tell me people are going to what, use less? Pfff!

        • Bob_Wallace

          No name-calling.

          http://cleantechnica.com/cleantechnica-comment-policy/

          You aren’t exactly demonstrating any depth of knowledge with your statements.

          Solar and wind are strong and getting stronger. We’re now getting about 5% of our electricity from wind and solar and their market share is rapidly accelerating.

          Energy use is dropping in the US as we put more emphasis on efficiency. People are using less electricity through “no fault of their own”. When they purchase a new TV, refrigerator, whatever they are often cutting their electricity usage simply because products on the market are more efficient.

  • AudreyFBrown

    It is my hope that more cities across the globe will begin to see the economic and environmental merits of a holistic approach to greenhouse gas reduction. http://qr.net/rzFQ

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