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Experts highlight importance of software as Sharp adds performance modelling to commercial offering

Sharp's domestic energy systems on display at PV Expo in Tokyo earlier this year. Image: Andy Colthorpe.
Sharp Electronics will add software modelling the performance of energy storage systems to its commercial storage offering, with software an area industry figures and experts have highlighted as one of the most critical areas of competition and progress in the sector.

Smartstorage, a commercial energy storage product which Sharp launched in the summer of 2014, will now integrate Energy Toolbase software which can perform tasks including modelling the peak demand savings that Sharp’s system can provide owners and operators. In the US, peak demand charges can constitute 50% of a commercial electricity user’s bills, and storage can ‘flatten the peak’ by drawing off the battery at times of high demand, reducing the amount of power taken from the grid.

According to Sharp, the software can quickly generate proposals for storage projects, while Energy Toolbase CEO John Gurski said it was created in response to customers’ desire to analyse storage projects for themselves.

“We think this integration could serve as a template for energy storage project development on the customer side of the meter, as the market scales up,” Gurski said.

Software is a segment of the energy storage industry which analysts and industry figures have noted is likely to become increasingly important. It is likely to see increased competition too, with storage control system provider Greensmith making available its simulation and modelling software to clients recently, after previously using it as an in-house tool only.

As not just PV systems but whole energy networks move toward greater levels of distribution and smarter grid controls, the smart use of software is likely to become one of the main defining characteristics of energy storage technologies.

At a recent round table discussion event, hosted in London by the Energy Storage division of PV Tech’s publisher Solar Media, Sam Wilkinson of research firm IHS said software is perhaps the most important part of an energy storage system and the choice of software will only continue to become more relevant.

“Storage is so much more than just a battery and an inverter. Actually the hardware behind this is almost irrelevant,” UK-based Wilkinson said.

“The actual intelligent management system is key, that’s the most important thing. In nearly every single case you’re dealing with a lot of real-world parameters, whether it’s a signal from the utility, an electricity price versus the FiT price that’s varying all throughout the day, comparing that to whether there’s a local demand for electricity or demand for electricity from the grid. Actually managing those is key to establishing a business model and a lot of the players that are actually driving this forward today are actually the software producers.”

That view appears to be echoed by the US Energy Storage Association’s executive director, Matt Roberts, who recently told PV Tech Storage that software, data and system management companies presenting at his organisation’s annual conference in Texas this year had some of the most innovative solutions and dynamic ideas.

Similarly, Greensmith’s CEO John Jung told PV Tech Storage in an interview published in April this year that in his view, batteries are just the starting point of what makes an effective storage system. According to Jung, a lot of interest in storage, especially at larger scale, is coming from mixed application use of systems, including offering various grid services, driven at its heart by software.

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