Germany aims to support solar energy storage

by James Martin II on January 21, 2013

Germany to lead the way on energy storage for solar panels

The German government will begin giving support to the installations of energy storage systems for solar panels. Although the the affordability of installing a solar PV system has increased dramatically across the globe in just the last few years (and is lowest in Germany), the cost of storing power still remains prohibitively high. Germany’s push to incentivise the installation of storage systems could make them more accessible to interested homes and businesses.

Affordable energy storage: A potential cure for solar energy’s blues

The prospect of cheap energy storage is widely seen as a panacea for the shortcomings of renewable energy resources such as solar and wind, whose energy must be used as it is being produced–i.e. when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. Although it is technically possible for these ‘intermittent’ resources to be tapped and worked into the existing energy infrastructure even in its absence, the availability of cheap storage would bring down the cost of generating renewable energy by making it dispatchable even if it’s dark out or the wind isn’t blowing.

Energy storage comes in many forms–pumped hydro storage, fuel cells, flywheel storage, and more–but the most familiar form is batteries, which chemically store energy. Smaller batteries are so prolific in our lives that they practically go unnoticed. When it comes to storing energy in quantities large enough to power buildings 24 hours a day (or even just 8 hours a day), however, batteries are still well outside the budget range of most households. (The exception is those who live in remote areas where it would be costly to have a grid connection installed.)

This could change in the coming decade. Already, electric vehicles (EVs) are changing the game. The technological push to make EVs–which run on batteries instead of petrol–financially viable has resulted in the development of lithium-ion batteries that are both more affordable and offer better performance than ever before. Innovation in the EV realm is already spilling over into the energy storage realm. Kyocera, for example, has already introduced an energy management system (EMS) in Japan, and will expand this to other markets in the future. Several other high-profile global companies have similar storage systems under development.

Germany’s leadership in solar panels paves the way for energy storage

Germany is arguably one of the principle drivers in the global drop in solar panel prices thanks to it’s ambitious and aggressive renewable energy legislation–the EEG–which has enabled the country to become the undisputed leader in terms of total installed solar PV capacity: over 30 gigawatts (GW) at the time of writing and growing quickly. This figure is around half the global total of installed solar capacity at the time of writing.

Although cheap storage will have applications for larger scale projects as well, the proposed program would benefit households first and foremost. Individual energy storage systems would be subsidised to the tune of €2,000 per installation, with an overall government budget of around €50 million, according to PV Magazine, although it is not clear what the average, per-kWh (kilowatt-hour) price of installing a system would be. Whatever the case, given Germany’s position as a renewable energy giant and track record of effective policy-making, the news is positive for both homes and businesses interested in an energy storage system, as well as companies looking to develop and sell them.

As has happened with solar panels, technologies improved and developed for the German market will doubtless spill over into other markets time goes on and prices come down. The UK is also likely to eventually become a beneficiary of its neighbour’s push for cheap energy storage.

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