What is a storage-ready solar installation? 4 leading manufacturers share their thoughts
Solar plus storage is a rapidly advancing technology that makes it possible to both generate and store solar energy onsite for backup power. Solar batteries can also help homeowners and businesses maximize solar energy use onsite. The cost of installing a battery is high today, but prices are falling rapidly. As a result, many property owners are installing a solar panel system now and planning to add energy storage later on.
How can you ensure that you're set up for success when you decide to move forward with a solar battery for your home or business? Designing a "storage-ready" solar panel system is the first step. EnergySage interviewed four solar inverter manufacturers to offer more insight into the concept of "storage-ready” solar. The highlights and key takeaways from each manufacturer are below, and links to each company's full range of responses on storage-ready solar are at the bottom of this article.
While the idea of a solar battery for your home is appealing, the price tag can outweigh the potential benefits for many homeowners. However, that reality is quickly changing.
"Installing storage-ready solar helps homeowners be ready for the future," said Lior Handelsman, VP of Marketing & Product Strategy and Founder of SolarEdge. "As the cost of batteries decreases, storage is continuing to become a more feasible solution to increase self-consumption and provide backup energy. When homeowners have a storage-ready system, they can, in the future, easily increase their self-consumption and gain energy independence."
Another benefit of installing a storage-ready solar energy system now is the flexibility that it provides for the future. As the economics of solar batteries improve, the way that homeowners and businesses buy and consume energy is also changing. Laying the groundwork now for energy storage options in the coming years is a smart decision in many areas of the country.
"Your load profile for your home will change as you add devices such as air source heat pumps and electric vehicle (EV) charging, and along with those changes, grid-provided energy is likely to change in cost as well," said Chip Means, Director of Marketing at Pika Energy. "We see increasing cases for solar-connected storage where Time of Use billing is taking effect, or where net metering benefits are on a declining schedule. In addition to offering a backup power resource, storage-ready solar ensures a residential customer has a clean, simple path to upgrading their system with a smart battery should the need arise."
While a storage-ready solar option is a forward-thinking move with benefits for most homeowners and businesses, the specific benefits are dependent on where you live.
"The US market for solar + storage is varied and dynamic," explained Matt Allan, Product Marketing Manager at Enphase. "Fifty states each have different utility districts (some have several), and each district has nuanced and different approaches to energy production and the integration of distributed energy resources.'
"In Hawaii, for example, the local utility has introduced a zero-export rate scheme, which makes solar + storage significantly more attractive for new solar systems. In many US states, utilities are adjusting the value of net metering for consumers. Solar consumers are well-advised by working with a solar professional to understand the mix of solar and storage that is right for them, given their economic goals and the status quo dictated by the local utility."
That being said, there are strong arguments to be made for installing a solar-plus-storage system now: "Consumers should keep in mind that in order to easily claim the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for the storage portion of a system, it should be installed at the same time as the PV portion," said Timothy Stocker, Product Manager, Energy Storage at SMA America. "If the storage system is installed later, claiming the ITC is more difficult. Other incentive programs can help with this problem, such as California's Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), which helps fund the capital investment and has performance guarantees associated with it."
Each manufacturer offered their own set of recommendations to customers considering their storage-ready solar options. (You can find more detail in each manufacturer's full interview at the bottom of this article.)
Storage-ready solar is a new area for most customers considering solar – and many solar installers are only just starting to think about storage-ready options.
Matt Allan at Enphase emphasized the need to do your homework: "System sizing for rooftop solar is relatively simple. The main question involved is, how much energy does the homeowner want to produce? To optimize sizing for a system with solar generation and energy storage, especially where the homeowner will pay time-of-use rates for electricity, installers must address energy pricing variables. It's not enough to simply match storage system size with the size of the rooftop solar system."
Lior Handlesman at SolarEdge offered eight key points to consider when evaluating solar and storage options:
The battery's capacity needs to meet energy demands
The battery's charging and discharge rate needs to meets demand
The battery should have a high-power rating
The battery and inverter should have flexible installation, warranted for both indoor and outdoor installation
Both the battery and inverter should have long-term warranties with wide warranty coverage
For backup power, the inverter and battery work in backup mode
Select a DC-coupled battery system so there is minimal energy loss and to increase the amount of energy that can potentially be routed to the battery
The inverter is just as important as the battery, since it is the energy manager. Make sure to select a high-quality inverter.
Solar shoppers should also be conscious of "future proofing" their storage-ready system.
"Customers should familiarize themselves with the brands that will be installed," said Timothy Stocker at SMA America. "How stable is the company/brand? How long have they been around? What will happen if they go bankrupt, and how will that affect the customer's warranty? What does their service and support structure look like?'
"This is extremely important with battery manufacturers, as we have seen many come and go, and this will continue to be the trend as the market grows. Another question to ask is, 'What happens when I want to add more energy capacity (kWh)?' Choosing the right products and right technology will ultimately allow the customer to hit their ROI sooner and complete the shift from a _con_sumer to a _pro_sumer."
Some batteries are better equipped to provide electricity in situations without a grid connection. Chip Means at Pika Energy suggests, "Take a long look at the differences in power capacity you get from the batteries that are available to you. The amount of available power when the system is 'islanding' (performing without a grid connection) is a major factor in the buyer's satisfaction with the system's performance; it can be the difference between whether or not you have a well pump running when the grid fails.
"Also ensure you get a system that offers scalability — as your home's electrical loads change over time and the price of lithium ion batteries continues to fall, you may find yourself wanting to upgrade your energy storage capacity down the line."
EnergySage also asked each manufacturer two questions specifically related to their storage-ready offerings:
How is your storage-ready offering different from others on the market?
What types of storage options (i.e., battery systems) are compatible with your offering?
These responses, along with full responses for each question, can be found in each manufacturer’s full interview at the links below:
Work with a qualified installer to find the best storage-ready solar option for your home or business
Every home is different, and what works for your neighbor may not work for you. With the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can get quotes from qualified solar installers in your area that include storage-ready solar options customized to your needs. When you join, simply note that you are interested in receiving quotes for storage-ready solar installations.