A head-turning snapshot of global transformation underway with solar & energy-storage

The amount of information and volume of news reports about the changes underway in the world’s electricity system can be overwhelming. It seems that almost every day there is some new technological breakthrough that happens, noteworthy renewable energy project that gets planned/goes online, or report released that (depending on what side of the fence you’re on) either foresees or speculates about how the future of electricity will be greener, more decentralised/localised than it is now.

Those who have long advocated for renewable energy might pinch themselves wondering if this is all real or if they’re simply dreaming–until they remember that all of the good news still does not mean that we’re through the woods, and that there’s actually still a lot more work to be done and many battles ahead.

Below is a selection of just a few of the recent events that might cause one to get a bit heady about how quickly things are progressing on the electricity revolution front. Viewing them in the order they’re listed in below, even a pessimistic reader might be convinced that big changes are afoot.

-The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), noting that almost 30% of the new electricity generation capacity that came online in 2013 in the US was solar, has declared that solar power technologies have now entered the mainstream. Similar stories are popping up around the world, including in Australia, where electricity demand forecasts have been repeatedly downgraded in recent years, with rooftop solar PV uptake seen as one of the principal contributing factors to this phenomenon.

-The contribution of solar power to California’s electricity mix recently hit a new record, contributing just over 0.4GW to the grid on 8 March, according to the state’s Independent Systems Operator.

-A study commissioned by the largest grid operator in the United States, PJM Interconnection, says that the PJM grid could easily handle a 30% renewable energy contribution without any reliability issues. (South Australia is already close to the 30% mark, and around 20% of the homes in the state already have rooftop solar systems.)

-The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently concluded that the same applies internationally–there’s no reason that any country couldn’t have 30% renewable energy connected to its electricity grid(s).

-Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) has predicted that new installed solar capacity will increase 20% globally in 2014–a total new capacity of about 44.5GW.

-US solar installer SolarCity will begin offering its rooftop solar installations to customers at Best Buy locations across the country. Best Buy is an ubiquitous electronics retail chain in the states, and SolarCity’s presence there will certainly do a lot in terms of raising awareness that solar is something that virtually anyone with a roof can now access.

-Yet another massive solar plant the US’s southwest has received approval to be built. The 750MW McCoy project will join the ranks of the Ivanpah Solar Project, Crescent Dunes and a handful of others that will be pumping solar power into the grid before the end of the decade.

-French territory Reunion Island looks set to go ahead with a 9MW solar-with-storage plant (using lithium-ion batteries) that will be capable of supplying the grid with electricity even when the sun doesn’t shine. Although these sorts of systems are largely going online for small islands (q.v. Tokelau) where imported fuels are expensive, the demonstration of these technologies on larger and larger scales will contribute to the knowledge pool and ultimately price drops which will eventually improve their viability elsewhere.

-Research firm EuPD estimates that 2 out of 3 solar installation companies in Germany are now offering an energy storage option. In the US, SolarCity will also be offering an energy storage option to its customers.

-Meanwhile, analysts are noting the big changes & challenges ahead for electricity utilities in Germany, while GTM Research and the Rocky Mountain Institute foreseeing the the same ahead for US utilities.

In Australia, solar may be on the ropes this year, with the federal government looking to reduce or remove the Renewable Energy Target and no state governments any longer offering incentives for solar electricity generation. But there is little doubt that solar will play a big role in the country’s electricity generation makeup in the future given what has already happened here (1 million solar homes and over 3GW solar installed) and what is happening elsewhere. The question is, how fast will this happen, and what obstacles could hinder progress on this front?

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd