Solar-Plus-Storage: Key Systems to Reach Sustainability Goals, Perform Industrial Processes
The future of solar technology looks bright. Overplayed puns aside, solar tech is rapidly becoming more efficient, longer-lasting, cheaper, and easier to manufacture. Of all the ongoing developments in the solar market, perhaps the most exciting is the advent of solar-plus-storage systems and their growing role in accelerating the decarbonization of the U.S. and its most impactful industries.
The federally-funded and DOE-sponsored National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reports that solar-plus-storage systems support decarbonization goals in several ways, and much of its research on energy storage is focused on analysis of such systems. Foremost among solar-plus-storage system benefits is the ability to transform and store excess solar energy for later use—a straightforward, common-sense premise, but one which for decades has proven to be a major technological obstacle to implement at scale in an efficient, cost-effective way. As solar and battery technologies each experience rapid improvement, solar-plus-storage systems clear this hurdle to solve two of the primary drawbacks of early-generation solar modules: the necessity for abundant sunlight when electricity is needed and the loss of solar-generated power when energy generation exceeds demand.
An Industrial-Sized Opportunity for Decarbonization
While solar-plus-storage systems offer benefits to single-family homeowners and corporate giants alike, their integration into industrial facilities creates an opportunity to make an outsized impact on global decarbonization efforts. Industrial facilities consume a greater amount of electricity and create more greenhouse gas emissions than any other market sector. By integrating energy storage systems, facilities can capture and store surplus energy to use during periods of high demand or when solar energy generation is low. This not only ensures efficient utilization of clean energy but also reduces reliance on conventional energy sources to compensate for periods of lower solar production, leading to significant carbon emissions reductions.
Solar-plus-storage systems also offer the potential for grid optimization and grid services. Rather than burden the electrical grid, industrial businesses with solar-plus-storage systems can generate a net gain by strategically managing the directional flow of energy between their facilities and the grid. This support can inject stored energy into an overstretched grid during periods of peak demand, stabilizing the supply-demand balance. This benefits grid operators and customers while also enhancing the energy-generating facility’s economic value by enabling participation in demand response programs and providing a new potential revenue stream. As the adoption of solar-plus-storage systems in industrial facilities quickens, this direct contribution to grid stability and flexibility will encourage widespread integration of renewable energy sources throughout the U.S. electrical grid—a pillar of the nation’s decarbonization strategy.
By generating their own solar energy and storing excess energy for later use, facilities can significantly reduce their electricity bills. Bypassing the need for grid service is particularly advantageous during peak demand periods and when facing threats such as natural disasters, when electricity prices are typically higher and more volatile. Moreover, solar-plus-storage systems can qualify for various incentives, grants, and tax credits, further enhancing the financial viability of these solutions and accelerating their adoption.
Using Solar for Industrial Processes
In addition to using solar to help companies meet decarbonization goals, the DOE outlines how solar energy can be used to generate the thermal energy necessary to perform a wide range of industrial processes, including water desalination, enhanced oil recovery, food processing, chemical production, and mineral processing. This energy can be harnessed through concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technologies as well as through resistive heaters or heat pumps powered by photovoltaic (PV) panels. Industrial processes that incorporate CSP use mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto a receiver, which can reach very high temperatures quickly compared to electric heaters.
Currently, the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) is conducting extensive research to develop high-temperature thermal systems capable of exceeding the temperature limitations of existing CSP systems, as well as ultra-low-cost solar collectors and thermal energy storage technologies optimized for low-temperature industrial processes.
To learn more about solar-thermal power and how CSP systems can be used for industrial thermal processes, check out the resources below.
- SETO’s Basics of Industrial Solar-Thermal Power
- EPA’s Applications for Renewable Industrial Process Heat
- NREL’s Opportunities for Solar Industrial Process Heat
The integration of solar energy generation with energy storage not only leads to carbon emissions reductions but also enhances energy resilience, facilitates grid optimization, and unlocks cost savings. By embracing solar-plus-storage solutions, facilities can take significant strides toward a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.