We’ve written previously about the innovations behind the growth of solar-plus-storage technologies, which allow consumers increased energy independence and sustainability. Not only that, solar-plus-storage systems significantly reduce energy costs for residential and commercial customers alike. As these technologies continue to develop, becoming more efficient and less expensive, we expect to see more consumers embrace the ability to create, store, and use their own energy on their property.
There is an even greater possibility emerging from the solar-plus-storage model, however. While many of today’s solar-plus-storage systems are highly efficient, they often rely on a connection to the grid and maintain a symbiotic relationship to utility companies. This combination of solar generation and reliance on the grid has both advantages and disadvantages, but many solar innovators have their eyes on a bigger prize: the energy independence and resiliency offered by distributed generation.
What is Distributed Generation?
Distributed generation is a model of decentralized power production that eliminates the need for elaborate energy distribution infrastructure by generating power near the point-of-use, rather than miles away at a centralized location such as a power plant. Localized power production eliminates many systemic issues resulting from grid dependency, such as inefficiency through power loss, emissions, and infrastructure vulnerability. As the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) explains, “By generating electricity in smaller amounts closer to end-users, we can dramatically increase energy efficiency, reduce carbon pollution, improve grid resiliency, and curtail the need for new transmission investments.”
For residential solar-plus-storage adopters, distributed generation looks like this: solar photovoltaic panels on or near the residence harvest solar energy and deliver it through a nearby intelligent hybrid inverter to a battery storage system. The inverter, which manages energy production and consumption, connects to the residence’s electric panel, supplying its energy needs through generated and stored power.
This type of distributed generation system can be either grid-connected or a standalone system which is completely off-grid. Standalone systems most benefit residential customers who live in remote areas, but also appeal to consumers who wish to achieve total independence from utility companies and live by entirely sustainable power sources. As the US Department of Energy reports, “For many people, powering their homes or small businesses using a small renewable energy system that is not connected to the electricity grid -- called a stand-alone system -- makes economic sense and appeals to their environmental values.”
It’s Time for a Paradigm Shift
Why embrace distributed generation and solar-plus-storage technology? In addition to economic incentives, resiliency, and sustainability, consider this: the current model of power production and distribution dates back to Thomas Edison. It’s “amazing how little has changed in the American electric industry since Thomas Edison first fired up his power station on Pearl Street, New York City in 1882,” Mark Group CCO Jeff Bladen writes in Bringing Energy Closer to Home. “The only problem is that the real costs of that power are no longer so inexpensive in dollars or other impacts.” It’s past time for real, impactful innovation in the way we create and supply power.
Recent storms have thrown the need for more resilient energy infrastructure into sharp relief. We can look at Puerto Rico, which remains roughly 85 percent powerless several weeks after Hurricane Maria. The island’s energy transmission infrastructure is estimated to take months and millions of dollars to bring back online. If instead of a centralized power production and massive distribution system the island were to have multiple points of distributed generation, known as microgrids, power could be restored much more quickly and efficiently.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk saw the potential for a paradigm shift in Puerto Rico’s power generation and distribution model and has already shipped batteries to the island. As Brookings reports, “Musk says he can repower Puerto Rico’s grid with solar and battery storage, an alternative that will not rebuild the grid in the old way. Instead, it would make the island’s electric system more resilient, more local, more independent, and less costly.” The world will be watching closely as Puerto Rico’s experiment with distributed generation takes shape, hopefully inspiring greater adoption of this new power paradigm.
Your Solar-Plus-Storage Resource
At Solar Design Studio, our deep experience in solar design, installation, and project management allows us to be a valuable resource for consumers who are interested in being ahead of the curve, embracing revolutionary technology, and saving money. If a solar-plus-storage or distributed generation model intrigues you, schedule a free consultation today and we can begin to make your efficient, resilient, and renewable power system a reality.