A version of this article appeared on Triple Pundit on September 9, 2016.
By Pari Kasotia
Addressing climate change requires a two-pronged approach. One approach is implementing preventative policies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, intended to reduce carbon emissions. Other examples of preventative policies include carbon tax or a cap and trade system. A second approach is designing communities that are able to withstand climate change impacts.
To effectively address the risks of climate change, adoption and application of technological breakthroughs that build smart and resilient communities is essential. The clean energy revolution holds significant promise in terms of mitigating climate change impact. The actual transition, however, is a long-term process with many moving parts and one that requires careful planning and consideration. How, then, can countries safeguard and plan against climate related events that continue to threaten livelihoods, economies and health of individuals? Solar combined with storage offers one viable solution.
The 2016 Climate Change Vulnerability Index below points out to countries that are at extreme risks from climate change. African nations such as Chad, Niger, and Central African Republic and parts of Asia such as Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable. Fortunately, these countries possess strong solar PV potential, as measured by the level of solar irradiation, which when combined with storage can significantly increase resiliency of these countries to handle climate change impacts.
While storage is primarily seen as a strategy to integrate variable renewable energy into the grid, solar combined with storage can serve as a resiliency mechanism to prepare communities to handle extreme weather events caused by climate change, and risks to the grid system which are becoming increasingly more pronounced.
A series of projects are already underway in the United States intended to demonstrate the efficacy of utilizing solar plus storage as a resiliency measure. San Francisco’s Solar + Storage for Resiliency program, through funding from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, aims to serve as a national model for integrating solar and storage into the city’s emergency response plans. Similarly, in 2015, Oregon undertook an energy storage demonstration project in collaboration with Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) to create an island system comprised of batteries and solar PV to provide clean, resilient power to three critical facilities. These projects, when completed, will provide a wealth of best practices for other communities to emulate.
High-risk developing countries that are just beginning to plan their mitigation and resiliency strategies are at an inflection point to create a framework to incorporate solar plus storage. This is particularly valuable for communities with massive urban centers, island locations, and regions with weak grid access. Below are some recommendations communities should implement.
- Incorporate solar plus storage as a resiliency measure in disaster preparedness plans. An ideal community disaster preparedness plan is synchronized with the local utility provider’s emergency response plan and identifies back-up power assets such as solar plus storage that can be deployed during disastrous situations. These assets should include those already developed and those in the pipeline. Additional planning should incorporate details regarding the duration of power supply from the storage systems, the distance and the level of power storage systems will provide, as well as a prioritized list of facilities that will be first in line to draw power from storage. Having this information readily available will greatly aid communities restore normalcy in disastrous situations with power outages.
- Regional or national database of implemented and to-be implemented solar PV projects. Establishing a database of existing or forthcoming solar projects will help Energy Planning Authorities to understand if incorporating storage on these projects will create a value-add. Factors that should be evaluated include the risk profile of communities where solar projects are sited, the strength of the existing grid, and the load factor of that community. Creating a priority matrix will streamline the planning process and effectively deploy storage resources where they are most needed.
- Designing cost-competitive solar plus storage systems to suit local conditions. For developing countries to effectively adopt clean energy technologies, they need to be cost-competitive and compete with fossil fuel energy sources. Moreover, these technologies should also be able to sustain physical conditions as well as technological limitations of these countries. For example, is internet access and speed a factor in effective deployment of solar plus storage systems as well as other energy management systems?
- Take technological maturity spectrum into account: As emerging clean energy technologies such as solar and storage continue to move from “demonstration” and “deployment” phase to “mature” phase, utility and community planners need to assure that today’s investments will not become obsolete tomorrow. One approach can be to deploy new technologies in tandem with technology roll-out plans with solar plus storage companies. Increased collaboration among energy, community, and technology developers can aid with this.
- Continued training of energy and utility workforce: Emergence and deployment of new technology calls for a greater need in ensuring that the local workforce is trained on effective utilization of these technologies. New training programs need to be designed for solar installers, grid operators and power dispatchers. This is especially critical for Sub-Saharan Africa which is already witnessing a shortage of skilled workers for the clean energy industry. Research shows that qualified workers in the region are unable to keep up with the investments and the penetration of clean energy technologies in Africa.
According to International Energy Agency (IEA), 17 percent of the world population or 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity. Ninety-five percent of these are located in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Moreover, the same countries are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. The swiftest way to grant these people access to electricity is through utilization of readily available energy source – the sun. And to protect these communities from climate change impacts, solar plus storage is a promising answer.