Solar and Batteries are a perfect match. Unfortunately, energy storage has not come down in price as much as many of us had hoped. Lead acid batteries have stayed consistent in price, and Lithium-Ion batteries have come down a little.
For residents of California, energy storage has just got a whole lot cheaper. Governor Brown recently signed into law SB 700. This is the extension of SGIP or Self Generation Incentive Program. How does this relate to energy storage you might ask? Two words, fine print. Although the reference is hard to find in the ever-so-fun to read legislative jargon, energy storage is listed as a technology eligible for rebates. For PG&E customers, over $3.5M in funds are currently available for residential energy storage, and over $18M are available for larger energy storage projects.
So how does that apply to a person installing a new solar energy system with energy storage?
For residential PG&E customers, SB 700 provides additional funding for SGIP with a $300/kWh rebate for the energy storage portion of a solar + battery system. This rebate is in addition to the 30% ITC that is currently in place. That means that a majority of the cost of adding energy storage to your solar generating system is eligible for rebates. The rebate is different for every energy system and utility, but here at BoxPower, we are happy to work with you to go green in a cost-effective manner.
The Global Status Report on Renewables from 2017 provides glimmers of hope towards a more sustainable future: new solar photovoltaic installations surpassed net additions of fossil fuels and nuclear power combined. Solar is transitioning into the mainstream, as a proven technology with wide-scale adoption. Within solar, microgrids are picking up as an effective way to target the unelectrified, combating health and education issues.
Solar photovoltaics were the top source of new power generating capacity in the year 2017 – at least 29 countries had 1 GW of solar capacity or more. Amidst hopeful developments, 1.06 billion people worldwide lived without electricity in 2016, and 2.8 billion lacked access to clean cooking facilities. In an effort to provide electricity for all global audiences, the renewable sector is on the rise. Solar PV installations are nearly double that of wind power, creating more net capacity for energy than coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy combined. Global investment in renewables and biofuels in 2017 was USD 279.8 billion.1
The continual surge of world-wide enthusiasm and eagerness for solar energy is a multi-faceted development. Solar has shown a substantial decrease in price: from $2.00/watt in 2014 to $0.50/watt contemporarily. The price reduction, combined with solar’s allowance for consumers to produce energy locally and independently, have played a heavy handed role in the escalating photovoltaics market. Moreover, the increase in global demand for solar is attributed to the growing need for electricity incorporated with an escalating awareness of the detrimental effects of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, global economic prosperity and technology dependence led to an estimated 2.7% increase in overall energy demand. Growing energy demand brought higher rates of carbon dioxide emissions for the first time in four years, at an estimated 1.4%. GHG emissions continue to be a major driver towards sustainable energy – with the amount of cities deriving electricity from at least 70% renewable sources more than doubled from 2015 to 2017.
Overarching Solar Market Trends
Solar is taking off: photovoltaics were the top source of new power capacity in 2017 for China, India, Japan, and the United States. According to the Renewable Energy Policy Network, “the equivalent of more than 40,000 solar panels were installed each hour of the year.” At the end of 2017, 131.1 GW of solar installations far surpassed the government’s minimum target for 2020 – 105 GW.1
China’s market is driven by government policy, and has surpassed installations for every other country and region. While a majority of China’s solar energy is targeted toward large-scale, centralized projects, there has been an evident shift toward distributed solar PV panels.2 China’s government has decided to reduce solar subsidies, which is anticipated to plummet global prices for solar panels as much as 34%.3 The Chinese government’s decision is beneficial for the American solar market: lower panel prices will combat the tariffs that President Trump has placed on solar panels. The tariffs thus far have resulted in approximately $2.5 billion currently frozen or cancelled in the U.S. solar development investment market.4
In the United States, solar continues to be the leading source of new energy generating capacity. India more than doubled the GW installation from 2016, increasing 4 GW to 9.1 GW. Solar is India’s #1 source of new energy capacity, ahead of coal. The U.S. solar industry employs over 250,000 people – about three times more than the coal industry – with approximately 40% in installation and 20% in solar manufacturing.5 The European Union increased solar PV capacity by 6 GW in 2017, for a total of approximately 108 GW. Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands are leading the EU in solar installations and trends. Solar installations have increased in Australia – and have brought cheaper prices than retail electricity from the grid in several regions. Latin America and the Caribbean are rapidly expanding markets for solar, with expectations for tremendous growth. In the Middle East, an abundance of countries have created ambitious goals for increasing solar technology, driven by decreasing costs and climate change objectives. Africa is utilizing solar to meet rising demands for energy access. A combination of off-grid and mini-grid solar systems are providing energy equity across the continent. A world-wide drive for increased solar capacity has created record-low bids for solar PV. Technological advancements have increased efficiency, reducing the number of modules required to maintain a given energy capacity, which has contributed in addition to falling prices. Evolution of solar technology has improved overall solar performance: inverters are more reliable, energy storage increases cost effectiveness, and the use of new materials increases system yields. Solar technologies have a long-ranging lifespan, from 10-25 years, and a majority of said technologies can be recycled at the end of their useful life.
Global Health Benefits
Distributed solar technologies allow for stand-alone systems to function on the grid, off-grid, or as a mini-grid. In many rural locations, distributed renewables such as solar enable the livelihood of millions. Mini-grids allow for cost-effective means of generating electricity for mechanics, cooking, studying, medical care, and refrigeration. Solar microgrids have a cost-benefit ratio that includes reduced chronic and acute health effects, improved lighting quality, increased school retention, increased income, and reduced negative impacts on forests. 38% of the global population, and 50% of the population in developing countries, live without access to clean cooking facilities, relying on inefficient, unhealthy, and unsafe open fires in combination with rudimentary cook stoves that operate on biomass and coal. Solar PV has gained quick tractions with mini-grids. Through combining solar microgrids with highly efficient low voltage appliances, annual electricity costs can decrease for a rural community by as much as 60%.
Amidst Cloudy Days
Developments in renewable technology have benefited from increasingly prominent battery storage capacities. As the tech consumer continuously desires the latest and greatest electronic innovation, batteries across the energy sector have become more powerful and more sustainable. Battery storage is an effective assistant to grid-tied services: balancing fluctuations in energy load or supply, frequency response, and reliable energy during cloudy days or periods of extreme weather. A majority of battery storage developments have been installed in developing countries–but Germany and the United States have been increasing customers for battery-tied solar packages. The Renewable Energy Policy Network states that “electricity storage also is being used increasingly in mini-/micro grids and off-grid to provide energy access with renewable energy, particularly solar power, as well as for islands and other isolated grids that rely on diesel generators.”
Let There Be Light
The year 2017 brought the renewable sector continued technological advances, falling costs for materials, solar innovations, and increased off-grid energy tied systems. As countries have become increasingly aware of the need for energy equity and the health hazards from unreliable power and dirty cookstoves, all regions of the world have shown an increase in solar GW and MW production. As the world moves towards a more electrified future, trends in solar renewables have shown that cost, ease of access, and reliability are forefront values.
“Eight months after Hurricane Maria, power had still not been fully restored to the town of Mariana, Puerto Rico.
So a company called BoxPower shipped solar panels, batteries, and a backup generator to power a café, laundromat, and community center there. But unlike most renewable energy systems, this one snapped together almost like Legos – with no engineers or electricians needed.
Campus: “If you can put together an Ikea bed-frame you can probably put together our microgrid system.”
Angelo Campus founded BoxPower. The company’s portable power systems, and tools needed to assemble them, come in shipping containers.
Campus: “The battery bank and generator can provide power from the minute it hits the ground and the solar array can be set up in about five hours to provide a completely renewable source of energy.”
BoxPower plans to sell these systems for use at music festivals and other events. The company will donate them to communities recovering after disasters. Campus says the need for emergency power is growing with climate change.
Campus: “With the frequency and severity of natural disasters increasing with every season, we are trying to position ourselves to bring reliable and clean power to the victims of those disasters globally when they strike.”
Reporting credit: Mark Knapp/ChavoBart Digital Media.”
On June 1st, the 2018 hurricane season began. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center forecasted a 75% chance that the 2018 hurricane season will bring a range of typical to above-average storms. Out of the 10 to 16 named storms that are predicted to occur, it is believed that up to 9 will bring winds of 74 mph or higher, and up to 4 will be major hurricanes, with winds of 111 mph or higher.1
Hurricane Maria’s outage was the second largest on record, creating devastation in the Caribbean in September and October of 2017. Aftershocks from the devastation are still being felt: 8 months after Hurricane Maria, and an estimated 33,000 people remain without electricity in Puerto Rico. Power outages continue to occur, costing businesses thousands of dollars per day. Economic damages range from perished goods to lost sales and diminished worker hours. Beyond the economic implications of unreliable electricity, Puerto Rico has suffered from direct consequences to human livelihood.
A recent report published by Harvard University states that Hurricane Maria killed more than 70 times what the official toll for Puerto Rico claims: from an official stat from Puerto Rican officials of 64 fatalities to an estimated 4,600 fatalities.2 Approximately one third of these deaths have been attributed to interruptions in medical care. The repercussions of Maria left many hospitals, refrigerators, and medical devices without power. Medications went bad, and Puerto Ricans struggled to pay for generators on which they ran expensive life support in their homes.
Worldwide, a lack of adequate and equitable electricity continues to impact the ability for members of society to obtain education, impacting grades and the ability for students to study before and after the sun has set. When grades drop, so does attendance – weakening the overall percentage of educational attainment. Absence of dependable electricity has repercussions on individual health from issues such as breathing unclean air from wood or coal fires. Air pollution stemming from natural gas and coal as energy sources has been linked to increased cases of neurological damage, heart attacks, and cancer diagnoses.3
The importance of protecting the current and future health of human life on earth must act as a lighthouse that guides us towards the adoption of new standards for energy and electricity. A compelling solution is the implementation of decentralized renewable microgrids. History has proven the vulnerability of grid tied energy: one snapped power line can imply hours or days without power. During a storm, natural gas lines can break, infrastructure can be destroyed, diesel generators can run out of fuel, and localized outages can extend for miles.
Not only are traditional sources of energy production costly to human life – such sources contribute significantly to climate change. As we seek to improve the equity of energy access around the globe, it has become imperative for humanity to emphasize the mitigation of environmental consequences from energy production. While working toward a more reliable and energy-efficient future, we must strive for future solutions to be sustainable and distributed. Current global energy production and power generation are heavy-handed contributors to climate change emissions. The burning of natural gas for electricity releases approximately 0.6 – 2 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kWh, while coal emits between 1.4 – 3.6 pounds. Solar, however, emits 0.07 – 0.20 pounds of CO2E/kWh.4 Given the unavoidability and critical need for electricity in society, microgrid models that combine renewables such as solar panels with battery storage and a backup, such as a generator, creates a viable path for increasing access to reliable energy while providing cleaner technologies that are durable and dependable.5
Renewable microgrids are a compelling case for overcoming the vulnerability of grid-tied electricity. Microgrids partition the incorporated energy grid into divisions and fractions of localized energy independence. Microgrids run on the principle of redundant energy: combining renewable energy production with battery storage. Off-grid solar solutions can supply energy easily on sunny days in remote or urban areas, and backup batteries and generators provide insurance that this energy flow will remain dependable during bad weather or periods of high demand for electricity.
Beyond the devastation in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, over 1 billion worldwide remain without access to electricity. The United Nations has set a sustainable development goal to close this energy gap by 2030, working to achieve global access to affordable, dependable, and convenient energy solutions.6 BoxPower is committed to playing a vital role in the actualization of this sustainable development goal–through providing clean, reliable energy, it becomes possible to improve the quality of life for millions around the globe.
The BoxPower team has been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to share our vision for a future where energy is sustainable, distributed, and portable. Without further ado, we present… Energy: Anywhere.
BoxPower passionately believes that our product speaks for itself. BoxPower designs and manufactures microgrid containers that integrate solar, wind, and diesel energy generation to provide a clean, affordable, and reliable source of power, on or off the grid. BoxPower’s hybridized energy system withstands harsh climate conditions to provide dependable energy. Our automated battery bank and generator energy management system can provide power within three minutes of delivery and our patent-pending solar array can be assembled within five hours without heavy equipment or machinery–by anyone, anytime, anywhere.
BoxPower Inc. provides a range of systems, including grid-tied solar, battery and generator backup systems, and complete off-grid power stations. Whether you need a stand-alone source of power, or an emergency back-up system for your home or business, BoxPower provides turn-key solutions that save you money from day one.
In case of extreme weather or unforeseen circumstances, our box can be uninstalled in one hour and the solar array can be stored in the weatherproof shipping container. BoxPower’s container mount provides increased structural support and the perfect location to prevent panels from being damaged in a storm.
By mounting a 20kW PV-solar array on a standard 20 foot shipping container, BoxPower is able to power the equivalent of five U.S. homes on a small spatial footprint. Product options include backup battery and fully autonomous offgrid capability and range in sizing from 8 to 100 kilowatts. Each container saves 3,000 gallons of gasoline annually, and has a useful life of 25 years.
Not only is this microgrid the largest solar container array on the market, but it is also the first of its kind to offer fully autonomous hybrid solar/diesel operation, guaranteeing 100% reliable power regardless of location and weather conditions.
With customers ranging from Alaska to Puerto Rico, BoxPower can bring clean, reliable energy; anywhere. If you are interested in forming a partnership, requesting a quote, or helping us out as we seek to provide electricity to the 1.2 billion people around the world without power, please reach out to our BoxPower team!
It was with great anticipation that I set out for Puerto Rico to attend the PR-GRID conference, an energy-industry conference attended by both the public and private sector players in Puerto Rico’s energy industry. Notable attendees included the ex-CEO of PREPA (the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority), representatives from FEMA, the Department of Energy, and numerous commercial vendors ranging from solar companies to wire manufacturers. The purpose of the event, which was hosted at the InterContinental Hotel in the wealthy Isla Verde district of San Juan, was to discuss the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria (which resulted in 4-6 months of outages for most Puerto Rican residents) and to discuss pathways forward for a still-badly-damaged and bankrupt public energy sector. While most of the presenters agreed that the Puerto Rican energy industry is badly in-need of a thorough overhaul and restructuring, the strategies for how to rebuild it could be broadly divided into two groups: those who believe that energy generation should remain centralized, concentrated, and based primarily on fossil fuels; and those who believe in a decentralized structure consisting of renewable resources, battery storage, and microgrids.
A Resilient, Reliable Grid
Around 9:00 pm, I found myself mingling with members of FEMA, the Department of Energy, and the Rocky Mountain Institute at a boardwalk mixer sponsored by the Smart Energy Power Association (SEPA). While casually chatting with my new friends about their various experiences on the island, many of whom had been stationed here upwards of 6-months, we were presented with a stark reminder of the fragility of the Puerto Rican electrical grid. In the blink of an eye, the boardwalk went dark. My first reaction was to assume that a breaker had been tripped or a transformer blown–but a quick scan of the surrounding hotel resorts revealed that this outage was a small corner of a much larger portrait of darkness. While I could see distant lights inland, it was clear that the entire beach strip had lost power, the only visible light coming from green exit signs. Within 15 seconds we heard the roar of a generator, and power hesitantly flickered back into the lights of our hotel. Meanwhile, the less fortunate neighboring buildings remained dark, and the shifting beams from dozens of flashlights shining inside hotel rooms revealed that hotel staff are both prepared for and accustomed to outages.
The New Normal
After the networking session, I decided to take a walk down the still-dark beach of Isla Verde, enjoying the sights and sounds, in search of something more substantial to eat than the deep-fried cheese and empanadas provided at the conference. I was expecting most places to be closed due to the outage, so you can imagine my surprise when I came across a bustling beach-side cantina illuminated by battery powered LED lanterns. I asked my waiter if this was a common occurrence here in the heart of San Juan’s resort district. He just laughed and said, “this is normal now.”
One controversial topic that was brought up repeatedly at the GRID conference, and again in my travels around the island, was the phenomena of people choosing to stay off-grid, even after centralized grid power was returned (tenuously) to their neighborhoods. Although much more common in rural southern areas like Humacao, where most people experienced outages of five months or longer (and as many as 80,000 people are still in the dark), some residents of the San Juan metropolitan region have chosen to remain disconnected, instead utilizing and expanding the solar and battery backup systems that they cobbled together in the wake of Hurricane Maria. What I found to be the most extraordinary was the level of expertise that the average Puerto Rican had developed regarding solar and battery technology. While hitching a ride to the southeastern region of Humacao with Karen, a 20-something year old Puerto Rican native, she told me in great detail about the new 4kw solar array which she had designed using YouTube videos, and was building to replace the 2 cheap panels she had purchased immediately after the hurricane. Why? Because she wanted to be able to use her hair-dryer again.
Driven by the highest energy costs in the nation ($0.22/kwH, compared to a national average of $0.12) and a deep distrust for PREPA created by their delayed response time, these newfound solar entrepreneurs have taken it upon themselves to move the needle on solar energy in Puerto Rico, and they aren’t waiting for anyone else to do it for them.
Unfortunately, PREPA and the rest of the traditional energy providers on the island have a less flattering term for these innovators. “Grid Defectors.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard this term used by members of PREPA, power plant operators, or regulators, I would have more money than the entire Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (hint: they were billions of dollars in debt BEFORE Maria, due to poor economic planning and failed investments). One of the more concerning proposals that I heard was that they plan to deter people from going off-grid by creating a tax or fine for those who choose not to source their power from PREPA. This was justified by the reasoning that ‘grid defectors’ (who are most often among the wealthier citizens of Puerto Rico, and can afford the minimum $8,000-$10,000 necessary for a minimal off-grid system), will cause electricity rates to increase for lower-income Puerto Ricans who will be forced to bear the fixed-costs of grid maintenance and capital improvements. While this reasoning is valid, (SEE: Utility Death Spiral), states like California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have shown that if properly managed (and incentivized both financially and with regulations), solar and battery systems can help to create a resilient, affordable electricity grid for everyone.
John Berger, CEO of Sunnova (A Texas based solar installer with a large presence in Puerto Rico) said it best. “You can’t stop solar. We aren’t going anywhere!”
Whispers of Storms to Come
The elephant in the room throughout both the conference and my subsequent trip to the remote southeastern region of Humacao, was the government-mandated privatization of PREPA, and the details of what this privatization would mean for rural residents, renewable energy companies, and the island as a whole. Although no official statement has been released confirming or denying plans to privatize PREPA, it is widely accepted as a high-likelihood solution for PREPA’s looming debt and history of financial mismanagement. For both the solar and fossil-fuel generation industries, this possibility creates a daunting level of uncertainty with regards to how Power Purchase Agreements, Independent Power Producers, and Net Metering regulations will change in the coming year. For rural residents like Lois and Katherine, residents of Mariana who have been without power for 8-months now, they believe that privatization could result in the indefinite absence of grid electricity in low-income rural regions like theirs, due to the high cost of rural infrastructure and the low inventive of returns for a private utility company.
Even if grid electricity returns, resident faith in centralized generation has been badly shaken. Although hesitant to speak about it openly, as though giving voice to their fears could make them more likely to happen, the threat of the approaching summer-hurricane season was never far from the thoughts of all Puerto Ricans. “We have been through so much, it can’t happen again, it just can’t,” said Alejandro, “but if it does, this time we will be ready.”
Over the past two days, BoxPower had the privilege of presenting in not one, but TWO eLab Demo Days! For the past 10 weeks, BoxPower has been working tirelessly at the Keller Center’s eLab Summer Accelerator at Princeton University, where we’ve benefited from the aid of expert mentors, a vibed in the eLab’s beautiful co-working space, and worked tirelessly to bring BoxPower to life.
Demo Day is the culmination of our work in the accelerator, where we get to share our ideas with over 400 attendees over two days in Princeton and New York City. Each eLab team (6 in total) presented a 2 minute video and 8 minute pitch, after which they received questions and feedback from an expert panel. BoxPower CEO Angelo Campus gave the pitch, and shared our vision for a distributed energy future. Needless to say, he nailed it!
After the pitch, we manned our BoxPower station to chat with attendees, and were honored to share our vision of BoxPower to the people!