Solar+Storage: The Right Equation for Resilience

By Mark Triplett, COO | March 30, 2020

No matter where you live in the United States, you’ve likely noticed the uptick in power outages resulting from natural and manmade disasters. Hurricanes, like Superstorm Sandy, left nearly 1.5 million New Yorkers without power for at least 10 days. And after transmission lines were suspected of causing wildfires in California, the state’s largest utility, PG&E, took drastic preventative measures to reduce risk of additional fires by cutting services to more than 920,000 homes and businesses, impacting at least 2 million people.

These are some of the most extreme examples. But barely a week goes by without businesses facing some sort of power-related downtime. And the problem could potentially be exacerbated, given the current situation with the COVID-19. Electricity is now our lifeline, as Peggy Noonan recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal: “Everything works—and will continue to work—as long as we have electricity. It’s what keeps the lights on, the oxygen flowing, the information going. Everything is the grid, the grid, the grid.”

Minimizing power disruptions is key. Companies have long used diesel-fueled generators for back-up. These generate heavy emissions that factor into the climate changes and fuel natural disasters. Plus they don’t automatically switch on when power fails. During the precious few minutes while they fire up, critical systems fail, then reboot, causing disruptions in daily operations and often safety hazards.

Since fossil-fuel generators also work counter to their sustainability goals, businesses have been looking at how renewables can support their resilience objectives. Solar- or wind-only strategies cannot address the full scope of the problem since availability isn’t always guaranteed when businesses need it. With the right combination of technologies – specifically solar+storage – businesses can make significant strides in ensuring continuity and reducing losses associated with outages, with an added bonus of cost savings over time and potentially participation in new energy markets.

Energy storage deployments are expected to grow thirteenfold over the next several years, becoming a 158 gigawatt-hour market by 2024 with investments totally $71 billion, according to a Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewable report. By pairing energy storage with intelligence, like Stem does with our Athena™ platform, solar developers find that it is even more attractive to deliver a viable solution for resilience and business continuity.

Athena is our artificial intelligence (AI)-driven solution that can manage demand, back-up power and power quality in real-time. It’s automated, responding near-instantaneously to a variety of inputs to ensure 100% uptime. And it can derive greater value from solar projects through optimizing energy storage and discharge cycles, taking into consideration factors such as rate structures, solar production forecasts, price signals and market participation rules.

For solar developers, pairing Stem’s intelligent storage with their solar infrastructure can result in significant benefits including:

  • Resilience – These combined systems can act as self-sufficient microgrids, generating energy and powering critical loads until utility service is restored.

  • Year-round value – Operating in grid-connected mode, these systems can deliver savings on monthly electric bills. Plus storage+solar offers a 26% investment tax credit, which can make project economics even more appealing.

  • Revenue generation – These systems can provide valuable grid services for utility demand response programs and regional wholesale energy markets.

There are many scenarios in which solar+storage can provide effective back-up, while offering other advantages. In today’s crisis, solar developers with storage offerings could help a variety of essential businesses – like hospitals, food distribution facilities and pharmacies – ensure they can continue to serve the needs of individuals sheltering in place or suffering from COVID-19 symptoms.

Think about a local grocery store that may be subject to the public safety power shutoffs to prevent wildfires in California. With a solar+storage solution, store managers can stay in business, keeping cash registers running and supporting refrigeration and freezer systems so that inventory isn’t lost.

Or consider the risks at a chemical plant that has sensitive equipment. Even a short power blip can cause manufacturing equipment to perform a complete reboot, taking hours to return to service. During this time, the manufacturer could lose a batch that is in process, while putting employees at risk and damaging equipment.

Even colleges are benefiting. With deployment of Stem storage added to solar, Cal State University Dominguez Hills has developed a virtual power plant that supports reliable power supply, minimizes the risk of electricity rate increases, and supports the community by eliminating the need to build new carbon emitting power plants.

If you’d like to learn more about how Stem’s intelligent storage can work with your solar deployment to improve resilience and business continuity, download our Athena white paper.