Solar energy is an incredible resource; so long as we have the sun, we have a viable source of energy that doesn’t pollute the atmosphere. Those advantages – the almost infinite energy source, the non-contribution to climate change – makes solar incredibly attractive to green-minded investors who want to ween the world off of fossil fuels. There is, however, a persistent thorn in the side of solar energy developers; how do we store it?
Storage is necessary for solar energy because the sun isn’t always shining, and if we are to rely on it as a primary energy source, we need some way of storing the energy for dark times. Currently, solar is used as somewhat of a supplemental energy source, in conjunction with more reliable energy sources like hydro. When you have solar panels on an established grid, most utilities will allow you to “sell” the energy you create back to the grid for a rebate on your electric bill, in a process known as net metering. This is useful on an individual scale, as the rebates can be sufficient to pay for your use of electricity when you’re generating less solar power.
What, however, is to be done with large-scale projects? California has recently been producing more electricity than it can store, so much that it has had to pay other states to take its solar energy. When so much energy is being produced that you have to pay other people to use it, it’s a good sign that solar is a worthwhile investment, but it would be nice if there was a better way of storing it. The innovative solution California has come up with is to create a water pumping station by the Hoover Dam, powered entirely by solar power. The energy used to pump the water will be reclaimed when the water passes through the Dam, spinning the turbines that create hydroelectricity; if you look at that from a certain angle, the pumping station is, in effect, a very large scale battery! If the project finds success, it might be reasonable to assume similar projects could work in any area with hydroelectric resources.
The more conventional way of storing solar panel is, well, in an actual battery. Lithium-ion batteries, like what you commonly see in cars, can certainly be used for the purposes of storing solar energy, but they do so at more cost than we’d like, and somewhat inefficiently. Additionally, lithium is a rare mineral, and mining it can be carbon-intensive. Fortunately, there’s work being done on zinc batteries; these are much more common than lithium, and preliminary experiments show them lasting much longer. They’ve been deployed in various villages without grid access in conjunction with solar panels, to great success. Zinc batteries may be the future, but as with any other mineral, they are a finite resource, so we hope to see other efficient batteries being developed using renewable materials.
No matter how you want to use or store your solar energy, it’s worth getting into the industry now; solar power can be harvested more efficiently than ever. Winnipeg solar solutions are available, and net metering is possible with Manitoba Hydro; get your solar project started today!