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Solar Rooftop

Electric Storage, Solar Boom Ahead

Hurricane inspired fears will spur a surge in solar and battery investments.

Bloomberg -- Growing demand for more resilient power supplies will spur $22.3 billion of global investment in battery-backed solar systems over the next decade, according to Navigant Research.

Villages and homes in far-flung places will drive the expansion of microgrids, small-scale solar systems with batteries that can retain power until it’s needed. Navigant expects 14.9 gigawatts to be in operation in 2026, up from 238 megawatts this year, according to a report Tuesday.

North America and the Asia-Pacific region will get about three-quarters of the investment as developers find ways to use microgrids more efficiently, including providing energy-management services to utilities. North America will have 5.85 gigawatts of microgrid storage in operation by 2026 and Asia-Pacific will have 5.57 gigawatts.

“The desire to improve the resilience of power supply, both for individual customers and the entire grid, the need to expand reliable electricity service to new areas, rising electricity prices and innovations in financing,” will all drive demand, researcher Alex Eller said in a statement.

Puerto Rico, where the utility grid was knocked out by Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, has become a target for developers eager to showcase microgrid designs. These include solar panels, small wind turbines and backup diesel or propane generators that may be needed if a string of cloudy days reduces solar production and doesn’t fully charge the batteries.

Suppliers including Tesla Inc., battery-maker Sonnen GmbH, and solar rooftop supplier Sunnova Energy Corp. have each begun shipping micro-grid equipment to Puerto Rico to help re-power the island following the storm.

In a related development, there may be an unexpected beneficiary of a trade case that threatens to upend the $29 billion U.S. solar industry: energy storage.

With solar construction slowing in the aftermath of the April trade complaint filed by bankrupt manufacturer Suniva Inc., that’s giving some developers time to change or expand focus.

“The Suniva case actually makes us more excited about storage,” Wayne Chomitz, vice president of project finance at  Panasonic Corp.-backed Coronal Energy, said. "It gives us more time to focus on storage.”

Storage costs have fallen about 40 percent since 2014.

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