Ask the altE Experts: What’s Next for Renewable Energy?

One question we often hear at altE is, “What’s next for renewable energy?” And while it’s impossible to predict the future, I thought it would be interesting to check in with my colleagues at altE for their thoughts on the near-term future of renewable energy.

The consensus from the altE team is that it’s an exciting time for renewable energy. The pace of innovation is accelerating and prices of system components are falling—making renewable energy systems a financial possibility for all types of consumers. According to the Bloomberg New Energy Outlook, “Renewable energy sources are set to represent almost three quarters of the $10.2 trillion the world will invest in new power generating technology until 2040.” With all of that capital flowing into renewable energy, the pace of innovation doesn’t appear to be slowing anytime soon (a good thing for consumers!).

But how will all of that investment impact renewable energy consumers? With that question in mind, I turned to the renewable and solar experts at altE for their take on the future of renewables. I spoke with everyone from technical system designers, to those with knowledge of the product landscape, to the altE CEO. A few themes emerged, driven by both advancing technologies and climate change. Here’s what I found.

KiloVault Solar Battery

Energy Storage

“Energy storage is the wave of the future and I predict in five years all grid-tie systems sold will come with solar batteries. Just like the computer industry, lithium based technologies will grow exponentially and get more energy dense and more affordable,” said Ben Farmer, an altE renewable systems design expert. altE CEO Sascha Deri echoed the theme of lithium based battery technology, “I expect Lithium battery prices to continue to go down in cost at a rate of 5-10% per year thanks to growth of their use in electric vehicles, and within the next two-four years for the sales of those batteries to overtake that of traditional lead acid batteries for renewable energy systems, whose prices only seem to be rising over the last decade.”

He continued, “With increased intensity of high wind and strong storm events due to climate change, I see an increasing percentage of the population looking to hybrid inverter systems with lithium battery energy storage as a quiet, maintenance-free solution to address the headaches of increased power outages. More electric utility companies will offer incentives to homes with these systems to share their stored energy with the grid during peak load periods.”

Andrea Belford, Product Manager at altE added “There are several ‘Energy Storage Systems’ new to the market this year—ideal for giving consumers an option to add storage to their existing grid-tie PV system after it has been installed.  These plug-and-play systems include the batteries and the battery-based inverter/charger all pre-wired together for ease of installation.”

Whether it is due to climate change or advances in technology—or a combination of both—2018 may be the year residential energy storage goes mainstream.

Saltwater Batteries

There is tremendous interest in saltwater batteries for solar systems. We see this in both customer inquiries, and in altE marketing data. The appeal of saltwater batteries is they are environmentally friendly and nearly maintenance free.

Sascha, altE CEO, noted “There’s a segment of battery consumers—off-gridders and folks looking to add battery backup to existing solar systems alike—that are extremely interested in salt water batteries because they are an ecologically responsible energy storage option. At altE we have rigorous product testing standards, which can be a double edged sword. And unfortunately there isn’t currently a saltwater battery solution on the market that we are confident offering to our customers. The good news is we are exploring a few options to meet demand. So stay tuned!”

Regardless of some of the shortcomings we see with current offerings on the market, one altE technical representative points out, “Saltwater batteries are very green. Cradle to cradle certified and nontoxic, which is good if you have kids or pets.”

The long term viability of saltwater battery technology remains unclear.  But as saltwater battery technology and reliability advances, and new entrants to the global market appearparticularly from China and Europeit’s likely availability will increase and prices will fall.

Solar Panel Farm

Solar Panels

Ever since import tariffs on foreign-manufactured solar panels went into effect in the U.S., we’ve been fielding lots of questions about what this means for the U.S. solar panel market. The short answer is, probably not much.

Andrea, altE Product Manager, elaborated, “With the 30% tariff on imported solar cells/solar panels that the current U.S. administration just implemented this year, the solar panel front this year will prove to be “interesting” to say the least.” She added, “As panel prices have steadily dropped over the past several years, we will expect to see some slight increases this year.  However, many manufacturers are trying to keep prices level for as long as possible. Overall, however, we don’t see this as having a huge negative impact on the industry or the consumer.”

We expect solar panel prices to hold in their current bandwidth as long as there are no additional tariffs or political interventions in the solar panel marketplace—something that is, obviously, difficult to predict.

Portable Power Systems

Portable / Mobile Power

Increasing frequency and intensity of storms around the world is causing many to rethink how reliant they are on the electric grid. “Along those same lines of having power wherever and whenever you need it, we are seeing an uptick in demand on portable systems—especially in remote areas where the grid is unstable,” Andrea pointed out.

She continued, “We at altE have recently developed a Pre-Wired 90 Watt Portable Solar Generator—it includes the solar panels, inverter, charge controller, and battery—all in a convenient wheelable cart.  You are able to power LED lights, cell phones, and your laptop – vital for communications in remote areas. Coming soon, will be other larger systems, able to power refrigerators.”

The global extreme weather of 2017 laid bare the fact that people may have to rely on themselves for power generation for extended periods of time after a storm. Advances in battery technology are making powerful mobile power units more affordable than ever.

These are a few of the major themes we’ve seen so far in 2018. What are your thoughts? Feel free to leave any comments or questions in the comments section below.