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BLOG: More than just panels: the remarkable side-effects of solar

Nick Sharpe

Media Manager

Posted on 19/05/2017 by Nick Sharpe

Recent global shifts in government support have changed the game for solar PV.

The technology is increasingly being seen as more than just a product.

Instead, it’s a way of integrating our lives with the world’s new energy system.

Electric vehicles, battery storage and demand-response (when users turn their demand up or down depending on the grid’s load) are all hot topics.

Solar can play into all those areas – but its flexibility hasn’t always been recognised.

Before recent reductions in support the technology was seen by some as little more than a pure investment.

The majority of customers were encouraged not to think about their panels.

Fit-and-forget’ was the mantra.

Energy analyst Jenny Carson of Delta-ee – a speaker at Scottish Renewables’ forthcoming Storage & Systems Conference on June 21 – explains:

“In the past solar PV was often seen as a financial product – somewhere for customers to invest their money and benefit from a larger return than that which was being provided by their bank.

“Increasingly, though, solar is now becoming part of a ‘new energy’ industry. That shift has radical implications for OEMs and installers who need to decide what role they now play.

“In future the value of solar PV won’t just be in energy generation but also as part of a wider product or system that influences and controls the flows of energy in buildings.”

As early as 2007, researchers had begun to notice a change in the behaviour of some of those who’d installed panels on their roofs: they were using less energy overall.

James Keirstead, then a Research Associate and later a Lecturer in Urban Energy Systems at Imperial College’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, summed up in a report titled Photovoltaics in the UK domestic sector: a double-dividend:

“Three potential mechanisms for this behavioural change are discussed:

  1. Personal responsibility for energy consumption
  2. The symbolism of PV
  3. Feedback and the role of monitoring equipment.

“The results suggest that, at present, further savings from behavioural responses will be limited primarily to use and maintenance behaviours, resulting from a commitment to responsible energy use.

“In future, the green symbolism of PV may encourage larger savings as the technology spreads to more diverse households.”

Since 2007 the business case for PV has shifted rapidly, with policy changes, subsidy reductions and plummeting costs (panels are now roughly less than a quarter of the cost of an installed system) all playing a part.

The market, sparked by savvy investors and consumers looking to save on their bills, is maturing, and consumers are seeing that PV can provide more than just bill savings

(although it can still provide those, too).

Delta-ee’s Jenny continues:

“We’re entering a new energy world where consumers generate electricity themselves and actually take ownership of it. They care how it’s produced and they care about how it’s used.

“Their appliances can be timed to make sure they’re working at times of peak generation. Home batteries like Tesla’s Powerwall or the sonnenBatterie are growing in popularity among the demographic which is at the forefront of this shift, albeit at different rates in different markets. If customers have an electric car it can also be used to ‘time shift’ the use of PV generation – charging to minimise what’s bought in from the grid.

“For some customers, the feeling of ‘independence’ is a strong emotional driver. Their relationship with the grid has changed and is structured to provide only top-up power and capacity, not as an everyday essential.”

Technologies such as wind, biomass and storage are all finding their place in the new energy system, and the implications of this shift for industry have the potential to be huge.

Scottish Renewables’ Storage & Systems Conference is being held in Glasgow on June 21, and will discuss these topics and more.

Industry leaders and government decision makers will examine the role of Ofgem’s ‘smart, flexible energy system’ and the changing role of the consumer.

Join us at the event and hear more from Delta-ee’s Jenny, who’ll be sharing her insights into storage, demand-side response and the rapidly-changing landscape of new and innovative business models alongside Everoze partner Felicity Jones, who will focus on the role of electric vehicles in the storage market.

As the energy system continues to shift, it’s the sharing of ideas and intelligence at events like these which will help businesses stay ahead of the curve.