Solar power industry requires storage to grow potential
July 19, 2012
Solar energy’s intermittent nature is a continuous problem for power providers, and innovation is needed for storage of solar energy to become possible. A grid-scale solar plant feeds power to the grid only as long as there is sunlight, halting as soon as sunlight fades at dusk, while the inability to store solar energy for use at a later time is a major issue in countries such as Germany, where excessive solar energy is generated at peak sunlight times and not completely used. Generation from solar energy sources also differ throughout the year, meaning that power supplies could be threatened by natural changes in the weather.
Ideas for innovation include adapting the processes involved in the generation of thermal energy to the generation capacities of solar and other intermittent renewable sources. It is essential to have a large-scale long-term storage system that can store excessive energy generated, for use during times of insufficiency. However, the high cost of using a large number of batteries acts as a barrier to this technique. Several storage techniques are currently being tried, but currently no large-scale long-term commercially-viable energy storage systems are available.
Pumped hydroelectric storage is the most popular, with 95% of the current solar storage systems adopting this technology; however, it is hard to implement this in all locations. The commercialisation of large scale storage systems would allow countries such as Germany, which produce excessive solar energy, to achieve energy autonomy.
A great amount of investments into R&D can be expected in the area of storage technologies, but actual discoveries are expected to take some time. During the first quarter of 2012, more than 162 patents were granted in the US for inventions related to solar energy, only two of which were related to storage methods. However, the increasing pace of patents issued every year in the US by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) implies that research and innovation in solar energy will gain added momentum.