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The Future Of The Lithium-Ion Opportunity In Solar Energy Storage

Solar energy storage using lead-acid batteries is as old as the solar energy industry itself. Off-grid photovoltaics (PV) has invariably used such batteries, in some cases just car batteries to store energy produced during sunny periods.

Till now the market for grid-connected PV storage has been negligible but there is a drastic change. The solar storage business is thus doubly blessed. Not only has its opportunity space increased because of the growing number of PV installations as a whole, but non-utility, grid-connected PV has become a target has become a target market for storage for the first time.
Desperately Seeking Lithium

According to NanoMarkets, for years to come, lead-acid batteries are going to eat up much of the available market for PV storage. Lead-acid batteries are mature, reliable, easy to find and not really that expensive. However, with growing demand for PV storage, it is understandable that battery firms have been seeking technologies that can do the job better than lead-acid.

Lead-carbon batteries are a natural alternative, but remain very expensive. Many of the other alternatives such as Sodium Sulfur batteries are aimed at utility-scale generation and are not what an average PV user would consider as an alternative to lead acid. That leaves just one alternative, lithium-ion batteries. Unlike most of the other technologies that compete with lead-acid these batteries are already in widespread use in consumer markets; cell phones, power tools and perhaps soon cars.
Bringing Lithium To The Solar Market

Lithium batteries have begun to creep into the PV market. Current trends are as follows:

Panasonic is a brand name for consumer and small business technology products, which in 2012 targeted German residential PV installations with a 1.35-kWh lithium-ion battery unit (up to 5.4 kWh total per system) with a lifetime of 5,000 cycles.

In Germany, in early 2013, the utility RWE started to offer its residential customers a modular energy storage system called RWE HomePower. This is a lithium-ion system developed in conjunction with VARTA.

Meanwhile, in the US, Solar City now sells a home energy storage system based on lithium ion storage technology developed by the electric vehicle company, Tesla.

NanoMarkets expects other entrants such as Hitachi into the market. It is working on lithium-ion batteries with Johnson Controls.

Lithium battery watchers must also keep an eye on China which is ramping up production of high-technology products based on domestically derived intellectual property.

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