From the Mag: A selection of stories from the October issue

The October issue of pv magazine leads with an overview of some of the most interesting residential storage systems and strategies currently shaping the market.

Also included is the excited second and final installment of the Solar Superheroes saga, as well as some fascinating industry insight into flashing techniques, PERC equipment development and off-grid business models.

Subscribers can access the entire publication right here, but for everybody else there are – as always – three free articles to enjoy online, beginning with…

Utilities vs. Solar

Often pitched as a "battle" between the two opposing stools of utilities and solar, the relationship between big energy and PV in the U.S. is actually rather nuanced and, in an increasing number of places, actually quite complementary.

There are naturally moments of conflict between the two industries, but a growing number of utilities are choosing to investigate the opportunities offered by the solar sector, rather than rail against it.

Christian Roselund explores this complex relationship in detail and finds, among the concerns, there has been a particular resistance to distributed generation solar (DG) in some U.S. states, with arguments abounding that net metering represents a “cost shift” from customers who own solar PV and participate in the scheme to those who do not have PV installed, essentially gaining from the grid while non-solar customers take up the cost.

Counter claims proved equally vocal, with DG advocates stating that many utilities do not take into account the additional benefits offered by rooftop PV, such as reduced transmission losses, lower O&M costs and deferred investments in new transmission.

Concerns over technical integration, dealing with the disruptive nature of increased solar power, as well as addressing regulatory barriers, are also explored, with the final word coming from Julia Hamm of SEPA who succinctly notes: "When you put yourself in the shoes of a solar company or in the shoes of a utility, both are fighting to keep their business alive."

Australia goes big with PV

A tumultuous couple of days in Australian politics in September culminated with Tony Abbott being ousted as Prime Minister by Malcolm Turnbull in a dramatic dethroning that could have positive consequences for the country’s clean energy landscape.

Turnbull is an avowed supporter of renewable energies, a stance almost completely at odds with Abbott’s vocal support for coal.

So, with a new, solar sympathetic PM in place, what can Australia now achieve in the PV landscape? Already the residential solar penetration rates in the country are the highest in the world, but in a nation boasting big skies, plenty of space and excellent insolation rates, where are all the large-scale solar plants?

This curious blind spot was the result of regressive policies under the Abbott government that sought to limit the development of larger solar and wind farms, but as the political landscape shifts and solar supply chains mature, the attraction of such developments becomes more apparent, provided costs begin to fall.

"One of the answers that the EPCs give as to why utility-scale solar is more expensive than in places like Germany, Chile or even Dubai is that labor is cheaper in those markets," explained Theodore Dow of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). "But if reduced costs can be delivered in other parts of the world, then in Australia surely those costs can be reduced."

Many experts working within the industry in Australia are adamant that PPAs will prove crucial in bringing advances in the large-scale solar sector, with investment creativity key if solar is to take up the inevitable slack once the nation’s older coal-fired power plants are phased out.

Melding with the market

Developing storage systems to augment solar’s attraction to the average homeowner has long been a key focus for most battery producers. The industry deals in slow and considered evolution, however, rather than revolution, but Tesla’s new Powerwall had the impact of accelerating the pace of discussion, if not yet adoption, of home storage.

For many battery specialists, the time is ripe for exploration of leading residential solar markets, with many leading developers now rolling out their new products in places such as Australia, Germany, the U.K. and parts of the U.S. – markets with a mature residential solar industry and a growing need for self consumption.

Enphase Energy, Panasonic, Powervault, BYD and ABB are just some of the companies that have launched small-scale batteries in recent months, and Enphase director of storage Greg Wolfson told pv magazine that handling the growing excitement for storage is increasingly about meeting expectation, but also handling expectation.

"We must not over-position what storage can do right now," he said. "Too much storage leads to a diminishing return. We don’t want to disappoint the market, and I think that is one thing the industry as a whole is going to have to pay close attention to."

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