Renewable energy storage

Renewable energy storage = Big opportunities for OEMs and panel builders

The bread-and-butter business for panel builders and OEMs has been safely delivering and controlling electric power. Today, storing that energy represents a new and growing opportunity. How big is the potential and what systems are involved?

We’re seeing a real surge in interest in renewable energy. Solar energy is the biggest single source of that growth, with wind close behind. In fact, solar and wind are not just the biggest sources of growth in renewable energy, but in electricity production overall.1 For panel builders and OEMs interested in serving the renewable energy market, that means big opportunities for growth. Much of that growth will be in systems in the 1,500 VDC range that’s becoming the dominant power level in solar installations.2

One aspect of this market that deserves special attention is energy storage. Renewable generation technology has seen impressive advances in recent years. Today it’s possible to make energy more efficiently with lower-cost systems than ever. But a major stumbling block to renewables growth has been the ability to store that energy. When the sun goes behind a cloud and when the wind doesn’t blow, we lacked the technology to ride through those lulls in generation.

That’s changing with recent developments in energy storage that enables utilities, independent power providers and commercial/industrial facilities to store and release electricity on demand. This storage technology is highly scalable, with solutions for panel builders serving markets of every size, from utilities to individual residences.

What’s driving growth in energy storage, and what do you need to know about the panel components needed to profitably serve this growing market?

Solar shining more brightly

In recent years, the shift to more renewables has largely been the result of companies responding to consumer pressure to move away from environmentally unfriendly energy sources. From businesses with small local operations to global giants, companies are eager to brand themselves as being Earth friendly and carbon neutral. Amazon, for example, pledged to power their operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025.3 Market demand for solar is strong and growing.

Adding to the bright prospects for the expanding renewables market is the Biden administration plan to drive rapid uptake of renewable energy with $2 billion for clean-energy projects and another $6.5 billion in lending to support clean energy.

Panel builders and OEMs serving this market are undoubtedly looking at tremendous growth opportunities. And while solar is linked to roughly 80% of current energy storage capacity, there are other opportunities as well. 4

Many panel opportunities

Turning sunlight into electrical energy is a complex process, with many systems to collect, transfer and store the generated power, with AC-side systems rated from 480 to 1000 VAC. On the DC side, some systems continue to operate at 600 VDC, but most new systems are rated at the far-more efficient 1500 VDC.

The various safety and control systems for battery energy storage systems require panels comprised of the following components:

Battery management system

  • DC disconnect switches – isolate battery banks
  • DC circuit breakers – help protect from overcurrents or short-circuits
  • DC contactors – remotely switch battery banks on and off, including isolation
  • DC surge protection devices – help protect against voltage spikes and lighting strikes
  • DC insulation monitors – identify leakage current
  • Current Monitoring Systems – monitor battery operating conditions (including amperage and voltage levels) and power quality

Power conditioning system or inverter/converter

  • AC circuit breakers – help protect AC systems from overcurrents or short circuits
  • AC & DC surge protection devices – help protect against voltage spikes and lighting strikes
  • DC contactors – remotely switch system on and off, including isolation

Energy management system

  • Ground fault protection devices – help protect against ground faults
  • Miniature circuit breakers – help protect auxiliary components
  • Disconnect switches – isolate system from other components

Energy storage module

  • Ground fault protection devices – help protect against ground faults
  • DC disconnect switches – isolate the system
  • Miniature circuit breakers – help protect auxiliary components

When selecting devices for the various systems, these selection parameters must be considered:

Battery side (DC)

  • Voltage system: up to 1500 VDC
  • Protection device: semiconductor fuse or miniature circuit breaker/molded case circuit breaker
  • Duty: load break and short-circuit fault level/withstand rating
  • Short-circuit: fault level or withstand rating required
  • CMS: Insulation monitoring, voltage and current
  • Battery state monitoring

DC main disconnect/isolation

  • Voltage: up to 1500 VDC
  • Isolation: Disconnect switch or breaker disconnect
  • Duty: load break/no load break
  • Short-circuit: fault level or withstand rating required

AC side

  • Voltage: up to 800 VAC
  • Protection device: molded case circuit breaker/air circuit breaker/fusible switch
  • Duty: load break
  • Short-circuit: fault level or withstand rating required
  • Residual Current Device

Building smarter systems

When designing panels and selecting components to serve the renewable energy storage market, today’s offering of smarter components should be given special consideration. The built-in intelligence enables higher levels of automation that can help reduce operating costs and increase system efficiency. And the available communication capabilities enable connectivity via private networks or cloud-based monitoring and control systems, helping enhance system control.

A bright opportunity

The sun generates 173,000 terawatts of solar energy every second, more than 10,000 times our planet’s total energy usage.5 We’ve gotten much better at converting at least a small amount of that energy into electric power. And now we’re making big advancements in storing it was well. “Advanced solar installations deliver the cheapest electricity in history,” according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2020. 6

Panel builders looking to expand their business should be looking with great interest at filling the escalating market demand for safety and control panels for these energy storage systems. The dynamic landscape is further underscored by the fact that over $5 billion was infused into the Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) sector in 2022, indicating an almost threefold rise compared to the preceding year. Additionally, within the United States, the Inflation Reduction Act has earmarked a staggering $370 billion for investments in clean energy initiatives.7

The technology needed to create panels for energy storage has matured greatly in the last few years. The required higher-voltage panel components – circuit breakers, switch disconnectors, contactors, and fuse holders – are readily available from a number of manufacturers. Designing and producing panels for energy storage applications is relatively straightforward. All panel builders need is an interest in expanding into this growing niche and a trusted supplier to provide the needed components and technical support.

Will Hulbert
Product Marketing Manager

ABB Electrification Business