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SolarCity: Energy storage is ‘inevitable’

The coming of energy storage to electricity markets is “inevitable”, according to Eric Carlson, senior director of grid systems integration storage at US solar energy provider SolarCity.

The company recently launched an energy storage product for businesses, combining lithium-ion battery technology from Tesla with SolarCity’s own solar power offerings. SolarCity has also started pilot programmes for battery storage coupled with residential PV systems. So far the programme has been rolled out in US regions including California, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In an interview with PV Tech, Carlson said, “[SolarCity] sees energy storage ultimately as inevitable. As we look toward the future where we convert our grid to be largely powered by renewable sources [including] solar and wind, we think energy storage will be a key component of that system.”

When asked if entering the energy storage market is still seen as a gamble for early adopters of the technology, Carlson replied that the reason SolarCity had entered the market early was that the company had identified energy storage as “a required and obvious solution at very high levels of penetration”.

“There are many different technologies, you can go down the list of chemical batteries and other ways of storing energy in mechanical and chemical systems, clearly not all of those technologies will ultimately have a place. There are technology gambles, but that’s not really the area SolarCity are participating in,” he said.

Carlson also said that SolarCity had already indentified other areas into which its energy storage business could diversify, including the provision of services to grids. He stressed however that SolarCity’s examination of these services and possible business models is still at the early stages

Carlson said that according to studies by organisations including the Electric Power Research Institute, “a battery can provide value at numerous levels; in the wholesale market it can provide real-time frequency regulation, or provide long-term capacity for reducing peak demand. The battery system could also be used to provide peak capacity in transmission and distribution systems – so in places where you’re looking at needing to upgrade equipment, you can put a battery in place or a series of distributed batteries to meet that peak demand instead of the alternative, traditional types of infrastructure that could be installed.”

SolarCity’s move into energy storage marks another diversification of the company’s offered services after it was announced that the company will launch an online investment platform to allow individuals and businesses to invest in its solar. A recent report by industry analysis firm GTM Research claimed that SolarCity had extended its market share in the US to 32% during 2013.

Eric Carlson of SolarCity is among the industry participants and experts interviewed for a feature on energy storage and PV in the forthcoming volume of Solar Business Focus, which will be published early next month.

When originally published this article contained a reference to SolarCIty pilot programmes for residential storage in California, Minnesota, and Connecticut which has been amended.

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