Commercial solar has been showing potential for growth in upcoming years. Companies who can adapt to its many challenges will see energy cost savings that contribute to their overall growth.
Commercial solar involves a variety of different types of customers and projects. In addition to businesses of different sizes, from large corporations to local small businesses, commercial solar customers can also include governments, educational institutions, and nonprofits.
For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on the government sector. Governments are the first to embrace solar energy but they are not necessarily the most committed group of customers. In fact, many governments have a woeful record of purchasing solar energy, if not completely avoid it. There are many contributing factors to this negative trend including:
1) Inefficient or high priced modules – As the name of the game implies, governments are reluctant to spend government money on solar. And when they do, they are more likely to opt for inefficient modules than those of more efficient manufacturing processes. These inefficient modules not only increase the expense of a system but, more significantly, put the viability of new government projects in jeopardy.
2) Inefficient or expensive inverters – When a government installs solar equipment, they are often not equipped to deal with the high voltage, high current or high temperature required. This leaves much of the grid-tied system in an “off” state.
3) Poor maintenance – The inverters on many systems are not designed to perform well with the frequent cleaning required during the system’s lifetime. This leads to frequent and costly overvoltages and surges which can damage the grid connection and even the inverters.
4) No backup – Governments rarely offer a backup storage system to compensate for a grid-tie system. Most governments either install their own storage system or rely on others to supply some of the time. If a government does rely on backup, it is more likely to be a pumped-storage facility than the centralized batteries of the industry.
There are a few government installations who have taken proactive steps to address the problems above. There are also government installations who have learned from their errors. In most cases, though, the government systems have opted not to improve. For example, Germany’s grid-tie program has learned that there are other ways to make solar more cost effective.
* Building large systems of small PV modules – Instead of building a mega system of large PV modules, the German program constructs systems of hundreds of modules which are linked together into large grid-tie systems.
* Building microgrid systems – The microgrid system is actually much smaller than a grid-tie system but, is linked by a high quality microgrid system inverter. The interconnectedness of these small systems is what makes the system work.
* Off grid systems – The British, French and Swiss build mega off grid systems but these are generally not connected to the main grid.
It will be interesting to see what the next five years holds for the grid-tie technology. In the meantime, I would like to see a lot more microgrid programs.