A report by IHS- a global information company, notes that global solar PV demand has grown for the 10th year in a row. Last year 77 Gigawatts (GW) of solar was installed globally, up from 59GW in 2015.
While solar boom continues, a new revolution is growing fast in its shadow. A revolution in how we store solar energy, for use when the sun goes down. Thanks to technological improvements, storage technologies such as batteries are more affordable and durable than ever before. Battery costs have declined 40 percent since 2014, and lifespans for commercial scale batteries are now more than 10 years; and costs will keep falling.
Solarcentury is installing battery storage with a solar PV system for world-leading Kenyan insect research centre icipe. Solar alone will meet most of icipe’s energy demand during daylight hours.
However by investing in solar combined with storage – a technological marriage regarded by many as the ‘holy grail’ of modern energy –icipe will benefit from more affordable, more reliable and cleaner energy 24 hours a day.
The numbers underscore the logic of this investment: in a recent solar and storage project run by Solarcentury, the homeowner’s energy bill was reduced by 75per cent, as a result of using solar electricity at night stored in the battery; solar on its own would have reduced the bill by around 40per cent.
Icipe is not alone in exploring the potential of renewables and storage to meet its energy needs. In Germany last year, 41per cent of all new solar installations were tied with batteries, enabling homeowners to store excess solar power from their systems, for use after dark. Energy storage is booming around the world. Modern storage is reliable and proven – new technologies now have warranties of at least 10 years.
Solar and storage addresses a trilemma of challenges for businesses. It helps overcome power interruptions, reduces dependence on energy from the grid and can significantly reduce energy bills in countries where the cost of energy significantly increases at peak times, such as first thing in the morning, and early evening.
The intermittency of the electricity grid is problematic for everyone – whenever the lights flicker off, or the internet stops working, work grinds to a halt until a diesel generator can be fired up which can be a frustrating wait.
But generators are not cheap and crucially they cannot completely overcome the interruption. That annoying lag – from when the power fails to start up a generator – is a real headache. For surgery, research, storage of medicines and manufacturing facilities, a power interruption can be much more than a headache, with the impact actually life threatening. Yet a modest investment in energy storage can overcome that lag and provide uninterrupted power for an entire facility.
More and more organisations are recognising that relying on diesel for backup is not economically or environmentally justifiable. That’s why organisations like icipe are turning to Solarcentury to provide solar and storage. This will guarantee a consistent energy supply, at a more predictable and lower cost, while lowering carbon emissions.
In 2012, the cost of fuel for backup generators used by African businesses and households is estimated to have been at least US$5bn. Solar (with or without storage) is a cost saving alternative.
Taking a basic case study helps illustrate the benefits of solar, and solar tied with storage. A manufacturer in remote Kenya might be purchasing 70per cent of its power from KPLC and paying for a diesel generator for the other 30per cent. The manufacturer could install a solar PV system to meet some of its energy demand. Although the solar panels only work during the day, the manufacturer can expect to reduce its power bill by more than 20per cent every year.
If the manufacturer installed a durable and appropriately-sized storage system, tied to the solar system, the manufacturer only needs to rely on the grid and generator for just 25per cent of its energy. The other 75per cent can be met by solar energy because the storage makes solar available around the clock.
Businesses benefit from solar and storage
Businesses have two steps to adopt storage tied with solar PV. The first is to partner with a reputable solar and Storage Company. Quality is important because the technology needs to be durable. The second is to consider purchase options: customers can choose to finance their own systems or they can enter Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). Flexible PPAs are particularly attractive because the customer does not need to invest cash up-front, and the savings start from day 1.
Energy in East Africa
There is huge opportunity for solar systems across the African continent to be tied with storage. In particular for high energy users who operate around the clock such as mining companies and industrial processing facilities. Modern storage technologies are reliable, durable and suitable for the harsh East African climate.
East Africa has a choice. It can either meet all its growing energy needs purely from its national grid with expensive, high carbon diesel generators for back-up power.
Or it could integrate solar tied with storage running alongside grid energy, which is a far cleaner and cheaper solution.
Storage technologies can have a far reaching impact on Africa’s energy landscape, providing cheaper and uninterrupted power. The question isn’t whether your business needs solar and storage. It is a matter of when you choose to embrace it.
Guy Lawrence, Director of Solarcentury in East Africa and Dr. Andrew Crossland, Energy Storage Specialist of SolarCentury in East Africa.