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What’s So Fun About Batteries?!

Chapter II. Reinvention in Puerto Rico

"The energy storage revolution will vastly
improve resilience during blackouts."

Half a year after Hurricane Maria made landfall, over one hundred thousand Americans are still without power in Puerto Rico. Even among those with access to grid electricity, service remains unreliable.1 You’re probably familiar with some of the unique obstacles Puerto Rico has faced in its slow and incomplete recovery – an outdated electric grid, an insolvent power company, dubious and poorly-considered restoration contracts, a negligent federal government, the island’s geographic isolation, and so on.

If Maria had struck just five or ten years ago, an effective response to these challenges would have been grueling, but relatively straightforward – rebuild the grid and the institutions at fault. Today, the best response requires that we abandon much of what was before – the broken grid, the corrupt energy monopoly, and even the absent federal government.

Puerto Rico isn’t just being rebuilt as it was. It’s being reinvented using the smart, distributed grid of the future.2

Solar PV and energy storage have been central to Puerto Rico’s recovery. A solar + storage3 system can be deployed in a matter of days, and can provide emissions-free power for years on end without relying on limited fuel or grid service. A diesel generator may be initially cheaper, but it requires a steady stream of fuel (a risky proposition on an island during a disaster), spews dangerous fumes, and will sit idly collecting dust once the grid is back online. In other words, it provides an essential service during crises, but poses its own health hazards and is useless under normal circumstances.

A solar + storage system could not be more different. It typically costs more up-front, but can also perform useful, profitable work every day of its lifespan (25+ years for the PV and 10+ years for the battery).4 Moreover, it’s simply a better backup power supply than a generator. Resilient solar is emissions-free, requires little to no maintenance, and its fuel - sunlight - is free and plentiful.

Natural disasters can gravely injure the grid – a grid losing a piece of its distribution system is a bit like a human losing an arm. In this totally-apt analogy, a generator is like band-aid slapped on the wound. Also, this band-aid happens to be a bit poisonous. On the other hand5, a solar + storage system is like a bionic arm fitted with all sorts of cool hidden tools. Sure, the arm costs more, but while the band-aid might help the wound heal for a few days after the trauma, the arm will be useful every day for years to come. Plus, it’s an excellent conversation-starter. And it’s not poisonous!

With all this in mind, Solar One donated 13 kilowatts-DC of solar panels to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. This is not a band-aid solution, but a long-term investment in a cleaner, more reliable, and more resilient6 energy sector in Puerto Rico. Our friends at the Coastal Marine Resource Center have done amazing work deploying solar + storage using our panels, as well as PV and batteries provided by other generous partners. CMRC is collaborating with local students (now paid solar apprentices) to install these panels and batteries on shipping containers that will be sited across the island. Each container will be overseen by a local café owner, and will become a long-term resilient communications hub for the community. Better yet, the apprentices’ experience on this project will help them find work in Puerto Rico’s booming solar sector. A hearty thanks and congratulations to these renewable energy gurus:  Lembra Rivera, Andrés Justiniano, Alejandro Rodriguez, Shane Kouba, and Dwayne Escola.

To be clear, this is only a small first step towards a more resilient Puerto Rico. The island is still in crisis, and requires far more support than it's getting. However, it’s not just the scale, but the nature of this intervention that matters. Puerto Rico – and even New York City – doesn’t need a band-aid solution. It needs a distributed renewable energy revolution.

What’s So Fun About Batteries?!

Chapter I. Gigawhat?

If you don’t follow energy or environmental news closely, you might be surprised by the breathless enthusiasm surrounding batteries these days. No offense to your vintage Furby, but we’re not talking about AAs – or even the high-tech lithium-ion battery in your smartphone – but a diverse cast of energy storage technologies,1 built at every scale, from small systems in homes and businesses to football field-sized batteries in the Australian desert.

But first, let’s define some essential terms. Note that in the energy sector, “reliability” and “resilience” have different, very specific meanings. Feel free to skim this section and return later as necessary.

          • Energy Storage – Technology that stores potential energy for later use. The most common of these is the electrochemical battery, which itself comes in various forms. Other energy storage technologies include pumped hydropower, compressed air, thermal storage, and many more.
          • Battery – A device that stores energy in one or more electrochemical cells, and discharges it in the form of electrons flowing from its negative terminal, or anode. Batteries can be single-use (e.g. alkaline) or rechargeable (e.g. lithium-ion, lead-acid, etc.). Of course, the larger-scale applications we’ll be discussing on this blog use only rechargeable batteries.
          • Reliability – A power system’s ability to maintain consistent electrical service. This system could be anything from a multi-state section of the electric grid to a tiny off-grid solar system. The fewer interruptions a system experiences, the more “reliable” it is.
          • Resilience – A power system’s ability to quickly and effectively bounce back from a service interruption. A section of the grid is “resilient” if it can quickly restore power after a blackout. A home, apartment building, or community center is “resilient” if it can provide its own power during a grid blackout, such as from a solar + storage system.
          • Solar + Storage (AKA Resilient Solar) – Shorthand for a paired solar photovoltaic (PV) and energy storage system. Most solar systems can operate during blackouts only if they are paired with energy storage. Therefore, in order to be considered “Resilient Solar,” a system must include energy storage.2

 

Congratulations! You now know more about energy storage than 99% of Americans. However, you might still be wondering what exactly is so exciting about batteries.

Energy storage is revolutionizing the way energy is produced, delivered, consumed, and valued. If managed properly, this revolution will fundamentally transform the energy sector in five ways. The energy storage revolution will:

          1. Finally enable the transition to a majority-renewables grid;
          2. Abandon today’s boring, antiquated, mostly uni-directional grid for the dynamic grid of the future;
          3. Grant individuals unprecedented control over their energy profiles;
          4. Electrify the transportation sector; and
          5. Vastly improve resilience during blackouts.

     

    That’s a lot to take in, and far too much to dig into in one blog post. Fear not – stay tuned right here for new posts that will treat these impacts with the time and respect they deserve.

    Enough with all this blather. How will batteries affect NYC?
    To date, New Yorkers haven’t seen many cutting-edge energy storage systems installed. That’s about to change, thanks to Governor Cuomo’s new energy storage commitment – the country’s most ambitious at a whopping 1.5 gigawatts by 2025.3 In terms of peak power output, that’s the equivalent of over 4.3 million solar panels.4

    This commitment also aims to employ 30,000 New Yorkers, and is essential to New York’s twin goals of a 50% renewable grid by 2030 and an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

    Suffice it to say that New York is leading the way on energy storage and renewable energy – or, rather, New York will lead the way. First comes the hard work of getting these technologies deployed at scale. That’s where you come in.

    In upcoming chapters, we’ll discuss how you can become the proud guardian of your very own resilient power system.

    P.S. Want to stay hip to the latest in Solar + Storage? Keep an eye on our Instagram, @ResilientNYC.

     


     

Here Comes Community Solar!

It’s finally here, the dream of solar enthusiasts all over the city: solar for apartments. For years, while single-family homeowners have been installing solar right and left,  New Yorkers have clamored for solar that fits the city lifestyle where most people don’t own their apartments, let alone the roof several floors above them.  So New York State made it possible to participate in what’s called “Community Shared Solar”, where one large array - in a field or on a warehouse roof - can send solar credits to anyone in the same utility zone. After months of planning and building, for the first time, this is possible in New York City, and you can join now.

Solar 2

The first ever community solar arrays in New York City were built this winter on two warehouses in East New York and will be switched on within the next few weeks.

Together, these two sites hold more than 3,000 solar panels, producing over a megawatt of solar power. That’s enough to offset over 300 apartments… and almost anyone can sign up.

If you haven’t been able to go solar because you rent, your roof is too small, you don’t have the money to spend on a big project, or any other reason, this is a solution.

Community Solar is, at its core, a simple process:

css

Image credit: New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

When you sign up through the Here Comes Solar website, we’ll reach out to answer any questions and review your Con Edison bill to confirm you are eligible to participate. Then we’ll transfer you to Daroga Power, the owner of the Community Solar array. You’ll get a 12-month contract that you can renew for as many years as you like, and Daroga Power will allocate solar credits from the Community Solar array toward reducing your electricity bill. Each month, Daroga will charge you for 90% of the value of the credits you receive on your bill, so you’re always saving money from day one. 

Join us in accelerating New York City’s solar revolution. Here Comes Community Solar!

How Much Space Is Needed For Solar?

Making Rowhouses Work brooklyn brownstone

Rowhouse-style buildings make up a quarter of New York City’s residential properties and can be great candidates for solar. But, by nature (typically located on lot sizes no greater than 25 feet), they have small roofs, and therefore face particular challenges. Fire regulations, such as mandatory 6-foot paths, eat up a large percentage of prime solar panel real estate. And then there’s cost--typically, the smaller the system, the higher the install-cost per panel. So how do people do it? How much space is really needed for solar?

First, it’s important to estimate your roof’s solar potential in order to get a sense of the solar capacity. Enter your address into the New York Solar Map for an initial scan of your roof's solar potential.

Offset just a portion of your usage. Rowhouses can offset a substantial portion of their electrical usage, and with NYC's high cost of electricity, even a small array can save you a lot of money. A modest, 5kW system can offset the usage of an average New York City apartment unit. Multi-family rowhouses often have a choice of offsetting all of one apartment, some of all the apartments, or just the common areas.

Install solar canopies. Solar Canopies, an innovative new design that elevates the solar array to at least 9 feet above the roof, creatively maximize roof space so a more substantial array can fit, as well as firepaths. This is a great way to increase system size on a small roof!

Group purchasing. Team up with people in your neighborhood and request a quote from a solar installer for multiple projects at once. This is a good way to lock in lower prices. Ask someone from Here Comes Solar to connect you with potential group purchasing projects.

Multifamily Cooperatives and Rental Properties

Larger buildings with more roof space are often attractive options for solar. Projects of this scale generally cost less per panel installed, and allow for more system design possibilities. While in many cases a solar array will still not produce enough solar to offset the entire building’s usage, it can offset the common areas or offset a portion of individual units’ usage, or both. To learn more about options for multi-family buildings, reach out to an expert at Here Comes Solar.

Solar Tariff Blues and Confusion – What it Really Means for American Solar

Earlier this week the Trump Administration announced that it was levying a tariff (tax) on all imported solar panels. This tax was supposedly levied to protect American manufacturing jobs, but in reality there are very few USA solar manufacturing jobs to protect. Less than 2% of American solar jobs are in solar panel or cell manufacturing, and the tariff will marginally increase the cost of solar to consumers and therefore slow the growth of more robust sectors of the USA solar industry, which currently employs more than 260,000 Americans. Those of you reading the headlines may be wondering “how big will the impact be?” or “will this impact my ability to save money with solar?” Read on for answers to these questions and to learn more about the tariff and what it really means for our domestic solar industry, and for all of us as potential consumers of clean affordable solar energy.

Read more +

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