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Solar panel-mounted energy storage could be a good fit in space-constrained areas

Highlights

Can be installed as single system

Could make sense when power cannot be exported

New York — Adding energy storage systems to solar PV installations at the panel level can provide advantages over rooftop solar projects with separate storage components by eliminating the need for additional inverters, but the technology is probably not ideal for utility-scale projects, researchers said Wednesday.

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Austin, Texas-based Yotta Solar has developed a battery pack designed to be mounted behind individual solar panels called the SolarLEAF. The technology can be incorporated as a single solar-plus-storage system during the construction phase or can be added to existing solar PV systems.

"I've never heard of it, but I guess it could be useful in some places (depending on cost)," Eric Hittinger, energy storage expert and assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said in an email Wednesday.

"This probably isn't the right product for utility-scale projects, but I could imagine smaller projects where the simplicity in installation could be pretty valuable," Hittinger said.

Indeed, the commercial building sector is the "key market" for the panel-mounted storage technology, Omeed Badkoobeh, Yotta's co-founder and CEO said in a phone call Wednesday. He said cost savings of 30% to 80% versus other solar-plus-storage products can be achieved by combining the solar and storage components into a single system.

Rooftop solar installations with energy storage are typically two separate systems requiring additional inverters for the batteries, Badkoobeh said. Installing both systems at once can be cheaper and more manageable for developers, he said.

"I would guess that the main advantages are that you don't need additional inverters or even a special set-aside space for storage, but whether that offsets the economy-of-scale depends on how cheap they can make these things," Hittinger said. Badkoobeh said that at some point the cost-benefit of panel-mounted batteries loses out to the economies of scale obtained from large centralized utility-scale lithium-ion battery storage systems, but his company has seen some interest from utilities for larger front-of-the-meter solar farms.

"Utility-scale installations usually have plenty of space for storage systems," Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the University of Texas Energy Institute, said in a phone call.

"Things like this might make sense in an area that is space constrained, like a town or row house setting," Rhodes said. Being able to co-locate that infrastructure could have a lot of value, he added.

EXPORT RESTRICTIONS

The technology can also be useful for solar systems located in urban areas that have restrictions on exporting self-generated power. "A lot of PV systems in downtown networks can't export, so this can help with that issue," Badkoobeh said.

Rhodes agreed, noting that if there is a significant amount of solar on the distribution system in certain locations, there could be a mandate for self-consumption. Being able to store that energy could allow building owners to take advantage of a utility's time of use rates or reduce demand charges.

NATIONAL LAB FUNDING

Yotta Solar was also recently awarded a place in National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Innovation Incubator (IN2) program, which is funded by banking giant Wells Fargo, Yotta said in a statement Wednesday.

Clean technology companies selected for the program receive up to $250,000 in technical assistance from the laboratory and project-related support, according to the statement.

-- Jared Anderson, jared.anderson@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Matt Eversman, newsdesk@spglobal.com