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Solar Energy May Be Approaching the “Tipping Point” Toward Success

Randy Sukow / Feb 18, 2016

To introduce a session at the NRECA Annual Meeting in New Orleans yesterday, moderator Brad Seibert, NRTC’s VP, Business Development, noted that people have been talking about the potential for solar power for a very long time now. He displayed a series of media quotes predicting a bright solar future … one of them dating back to 1928.

Energy Integration Panel DiscussionThe panel (L-R): Frank Bergh, SoCore Energy; Philippe Bouchard, Eos Energy Storage; John Hewa, Pedernales Electric Cooperative; Russell Young, SoCore Energy, and Brad Seibert, NRTC.

“Is this really a new era or a repeat of what we’ve all heard previously?” Seibert asked. “I think this is a new era. I think we’re on a tipping point.”

The session’s panelist reviewed the combination of solar technology advancements and changes in the business environment that give some reason to believe that solar power is gaining momentum. “We are very enthusiastic about the technology revolution that is going on in a way that perfectly aligns with a distribution co-op. I think it perfectly aligns to what our mission is,” said John Hewa, CEO of Pedernales Electric Cooperative in Texas.

Together with technology advancements, it is becoming easier to finance solar projects for cooperatives of all sizes, between continued government support through tax credits and greater industry interest. “I think it may be hard for some of the smaller co-ops to take all of the financing in, so what we try to do is make it easier to monetize the tax credit,” said Russell Young, senior VP for NRTC solar partner SoCore Energy. At the same time, SoCore assists with many of the details, which is “a big deal” when you consider that some solar financing agreements exceed a thousand pages, Young said.

Although improved storage technology is helping to advance solar, Philippe Bouchard, VP, Business Development for Eos Energy Storage, cautioned that there is significant “hype” about storage and that the industry still does not know the full potential. “The reality today is that the market is still relatively small. We store less than 0.01 percent of electricity that we generate and 99 percent of that storage capacity is essentially pumped hydro,” Bouchard said.

Analysts should concentrate less on the potential of the market size, he said, and focus on “what needs to happen from a performance perspective to make that market open up.” Eos is looking to provide a storage system that will make economic sense for the utility, he said.

Energy storage was the topic of an NRTC/SoCore webinar a week ago. One of the participants at that webinar, Frank Bergh, SoCore’s director of Product Development, told the NRECA audience that falling costs is among the reasons why storage is becoming more economically attractive. “There has been a precipitous decline due to a lot of factors. One is R&D and innovation and another is manufacturing capabilities … in the market specifically,” he said.

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