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April 28, 2015

Solar Energy: Storage Solutions

The future is upon us, and sustainable energy is here. Electricity needn’t be produced with nonrenewable resources, and modern, innovative solutions exist to maintain high-grade, consistent power. Solar energy is a fantastic access point to the future’s power cornerstones, and its principal components are incredibly effective.

How Does Solar Energy Work?

Solar cells, installed upon households, businesses or other capture areas, capture the Sun’s energy via photovoltaic cells. These cells are created with both positive and negative fields, and these fields capture the Sun’s photons within the semiconductor’s silicon material. These photons, alongside captured electrons, then move through the cell’s bottom, creating DC electricity. A solar inverter is then used to convert DC electricity to AC.


Often, the Sun’s energy is utilized to heat water, provide light and supply air conditioning. On larger scales, solar power towers can contain large amounts of solar energy for later use. These towers produce enough electric energy to provide for entire communities, spanning across homes, businesses and other establishments.

How is Solar Energy Stored?

In some utility-scale installations, the Sun’s thermal energy is produced and held within concentrating solar power plants, labeled "CSP" for short. These plants differ in size, and they power a system’s generator variably—and as energy is needed. Residential and commercial installations use a similar system of solar thermal energy storage; however, these systems rarely convert the energy to electricity, instead using the hot water produced directly.

In most systems, the energy is contained within a medium capable of transferring energy. Water is a common medium, as is oil, molten salt and several other compounds. These fluids effectively contain heat energy, and they’re designed to deliver “backup” energy during cloudy days and overnight.

Additionally, solar energy is stored within batteries. On smaller scales, a PV module and a simple car battery can provide an effective storage and backup system. Unfortunately, many establishments relying upon solar energy need larger storage capacity. Some providers offer equipment capable of offering continuous power backup—though such benefits are normally accessed through grid outages. Other power grid systems use battery energy storage to regulate voltage and frequency distortions, and to provide short term load leveling (demand distortions). Long term load leveling requirements are most often met with an alternative power generation source; however, these often take some time to come online, making battery energy storage extremely important.

The Solar Storage Problem

While solar energy can be stored, and—while effective systems have been created to maintain sustainable energy, a big problem exists with keeping solar energy storage balanced against supply and demand.

Solar and wind energy do not have a constant supply source. The sun does not always shine, and the wind does not always blow. The demand from consumers is also not constant. Residential demand peaks after 5 PM, when most consumers are returning home and using more electricity. An electric grid will not functional unless a balance between supply and demand exists. Imbalances cause voltage fluctuations. Hence the critical need for energy storage exists to balance intermittent supply and fluctuating demand

While solar energy alone holds the potential to meet an entire country’s electricity needs, further growth can worsen the supply and demand issue. Without adequate energy storage, when supply and demand are not in sync, permanent grid instability results.

Are Big-Scale Batteries an Option?

In theory, large, widely-distributed batteries can answer the instability problem. However, solar energy isn’t readily widespread across the world. Justifying large-scale, big battery production isn’t always feasible to some in the industry, though many have considered creating battery packs to increase overall storage capacities. Furthermore, while current trends are showing promising future results, today’s batteries are both expensive and have a relatively low energy density.

Growing Technology and Potential Solutions

Fortunately, the solar industry is growing. Modern producers have focused upon innovative technology designed to filter grid lines while leading AC drive motors. This process streamlines energy storage systems, greatly reducing supply-side stress on power grids.

Solar energy is not being stored easily today (at least not for long-term demand disturbances), but the future holds great potential. Modern electric vehicle investment has spiked the industry, so lithium ion costs have fallen considerably. This material is critical for producing lithium ion batteries, and decreased production costs will make it a more economically viable storage solution.

At the moment, many high quality, innovative suppliers, like CTM Magnetics, are providing critical, efficiency boosting products for the solar power industry. Many businesses are working on potential solutions, and modern solar energy storage problems may be remedied by liquid metal batteries, cheaper components and innovative manufacturing processes.

Is Wind Power a Viable Solution?

Harvesting wind energy is also an effective power solution. Again, wind, like the Sun, offers a huge potential energy source. Wind turbines have become increasingly popular in recent years. Their popularity is boosted by current advancements, as modern technology promises a slew of future successes.

Wind power can generate energy for a variety of applications, and modern wind turbines are variable-speed systems, meaning they can spin at whatever speed extracts the most energy in given wind conditions. The variable frequency power generation is converted to constant, power line frequencies through electronic controls and grid-tie converters. Grid-tie filters are an integral part of these systems that smooth power signals and boost system efficiencies before power is placed on the power grid.

While residential turbine systems are popular for rural households and agricultural industries, both variable-speed and fixed-speed turbines have been implemented into connection grids. For now, the future is still changing, but wind-powered solutions will likely become a modern cornerstone of any power grid.

Into the Future

Wind-powered generators, like solar-powered generators, have many areas for future improvements. Fortunately, the changing industry is providing a wealth of opportunities, research potential and new possibilities. While sustainable energy will always be a changing practice, modern practices and scientific advancements aren’t only promising—they’re invigorating.