Commercial solar power systems are attractive building upgrades from the financial standpoint. Businesses tend to use the most energy during the day, when solar panels are productive, which minimises the amount of energy that must be exported to the grid. Feed-in tariffs in Australia are much lower than retail electricity rates, so consuming the output of a commercial solar array is better than exporting it. Residential users can also achieve significant savings with solar power, but must often export a large fraction of their generation – their energy demand tends to be higher after sunset.
Solar Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) are becoming popular among businesses, allowing them to avoid the upfront cost of the installation and achieving immediate savings, while leaving maintenance to the experts. In addition, there are emerging technologies than can enhance the value of commercial solar power systems. Energy storage, artificial intelligence and peer-to-peer energy trading are among the most promising concepts.
The main limitation of conventional grid-tied solar PV systems is that they can’t generate energy on demand, for the simple reason that humans can’t control sunshine. However, if a solar array is complemented with energy storage, it can mimic the behavior of a dispatchable energy source such as coal or natural gas. In addition, if energy storage is complemented with AI, the system can keep track of generation and consumption, actively managing batteries to balance them out. A solar power system with AI and energy storage can help avoid two unfavorable situations:
Consider that large commercial and industrial energy consumers are also billed for capacity in addition to energy consumption, based on the highest peak in power demand for the last 12 months. A combined solar power and energy storage system equipped with AI can keep track of demand, supplying previously stored energy to trim any peaks in consumption, thus reducing the capacity charge.
Even more possibilities will be created once energy users and self-generators are allowed to sell and purchase electricity through the power network. A solar power system with energy storage and AI can frequently search for the best deals, selling kilowatt-hours when demand for renewable energy is high. Surplus generation from the solar array keeps the battery bank full, ensuring there is always renewable energy to sell, assuming internal demand has already been met.
Peer-to-peer energy trading will give complete visibility of energy trade, and it will be possible to tell which consumers use clean sources and which are still purchasing electricity generated from fossil fuels. Stored energy from a solar array can be attractive for environmentally-conscious energy users without renewable generation, especially after sunset when there is no more generation until the next day!
Commercial solar power systems could soon evolve from a renewable generation system of variable output, to an integrated energy management solution that features generation, storage, demand management and energy trading. The PPA business model, which has proven successful with conventional solar generation, could expand into energy services that use equipment connected to the solar array.