Using solar storage to mitigate natural disasters’ impact

Solar systems with battery backup have the potential to provide communities with much needed resiliency in the face of natural disasters. These systems can protect vulnerable communities from the disaster’s most immediate, devastating effects by providing power when the electric grid goes down. Over an extended period, solar powered system replenish — even if roads are cut off, or access to gas for traditional home generators is unavailable or hard to get.

While the need for solar plus storage is clear, what is less clear is if solar systems with battery backup is a realistic option for communities seeking to improve their resiliency. We decided to answer this question and explore what it would take to help a community deploy solar plus storage at a meaningful scale.

Working with our parent organization, Community Power Network, we conducted an in-depth analysis of the current “state of the art” of solar plus storage. It sought to determine if solar plus storage is a viable means to protect vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change. We modeled the financial feasibility of these projects and identified means to scaling up their deployment.

The research demonstrated several important findings. The battery market is robust enough to support solar plus storage. Solar plus storage can be financially positive for the institutions that build these projects. This is especially true for commercial entities facing high demand charges in their regular electric bill. Despite this, interest on the private business side for solar storage remains low. This is due to a low level of knowledge about storage, the complexity of developing such projects, and a lack of incentive for businesses to invest in resiliency of any form. On the public side, municipalities in the study area were very interested in using solar storage as part of their resiliency goals. This is despite the fact that the economics of such projects were much less compelling for municipalities. This is due to the complexity of utilizing tax credits. Despite this interest from municipalities, solar plus storage is not currently included in the local resiliency planning.

The barriers to growing solar plus storage are not financial or technical. In order for this technology to flourish, the policy environment must change. Policy should look to create demand for solar plus storage projects in resiliency planning. It should require municipalities and strategic businesses that provide communications, food, medicine, and shelter to the infirm and elderly to plan for emergency when power is out and gas stations are closed for an extended time frame. This will encourage municipalities and private sector entities to think pro-actively about how their systems could become more resilient.

To read the full report, click here.