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Do Solar Panels Store Energy? A Brief Guide to Solar Energy Storage

Do solar panels store energy? Have you ever wondered what happens to the excess energy your solar panels generate during the day?

It’s a common misconception that this energy goes to waste, but it can be stored for later use. This is where energy storage in solar panels comes in. If you’re a homeowner considering going solar, understanding how energy storage works can be a game-changer.

In the lines below, we’ll dive into the world of solar energy storage and explore how it works, different forms of energy storage, and its advantages and limitations. Whether you’re just starting to research solar energy for your home or you’ve already made the switch, this article will give you a comprehensive overview of energy storage in solar panels and its impact on your daily life.

So, let’s get started!

First, we will address the important question you are here for: Do solar panels store energy?

Do solar panels store energy?

If by solar panels you mean solar modules installed on our rooftops, then no, solar modules do not and cannot store energy. They are capable of only generating electricity and not storing it.

Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight into electricity. The PV cells consist of layers of silicon and other materials that generate an electrical current when photons found in sunlight hit them. This direct current (DC) electricity is then sent to an inverter, which converts it into alternating current (AC) that can be used in your home.

The process of converting sunlight into electricity through the PV cells is called the photovoltaic effect. When photons from sunlight hit the solar cells, they knock electrons into a higher energy state. This flow of charged particles creates an electrical current, which is then captured and sent to the inverter.

As the process shows, no element can store the energy generated in solar modules. But if solar panels cannot store energy, what about the excess energy solar systems create? Is it wasted?

The answer is no. While solar modules cannot store energy, some ways help us deal with the excess energy produced by solar systems. This can either be achieved by net metering or battery-based storage systems.

Net metering

Net metering is a billing contract between solar owners and utility companies that allows excess energy generated by solar panels to be sent back to the grid in exchange for credits. In terms of energy storage and preventing excess energy from going to waste, net metering allows homeowners to effectively store their surplus energy in the grid rather than relying on a separate battery storage system. It is as if your grid is your ‘giant battery’ to which you can have ready access when needed.

With net metering, homeowners can receive credits for the excess energy they generate, which they can then use to offset their energy costs during times when their solar panels are not producing enough power to meet their needs.

For example, if you generate 10 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy in a given day and only use 7 kWh, the excess 3 kWh can be sent back to the grid, and you’ll receive credits for that energy. Then, when your solar panels are not generating enough energy, you can use those credits to offset the energy you need from the grid.

Energy storage systems

Another way to utilize excess energy is by installing an energy storage system. This is achieved through the use of batteries, which store the surplus energy and release it when it’s needed.

The process begins with the inverter, which converts the direct current (DC) electricity generated by the photovoltaic (PV) cells into alternating current (AC) that can be used in your home. If the energy generated by the panels exceeds the amount being used, the excess energy is stored in a battery system. When the panels are not generating enough energy to meet your needs, the stored energy is then released from the battery and sent to your home.

Battery storage systems come in a range of sizes and capacities, and the type of battery you choose will depend on your energy needs and budget. The two most popular options include lithium-ion batteries and lead-acid batteries.

You may like to read: What’s the difference between lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries?

Advantages of battery-based energy storage

Pairing solar panels with a battery-based energy storage system offer many advantages, including the following:  

  • Increased energy efficiency: By storing excess energy generated by the panels, battery-based energy storage systems ensure that your home has a steady source of energy even when the panels are not generating enough power. This increased energy efficiency can reduce your reliance on grid power and potentially save you money on your energy bills.
  • Reliable backup power: Energy storage systems provide a backup source of power in case of an emergency, such as a power outage. You are not dependent on the grid; you have your own grid installed in the home.
  • Cost savings: By reducing your reliance on grid power, energy storage in solar panels can help you save money on your energy bills. It can be substantial over time, 100% in some cases, and can offset the initial cost of your battery bank.
  • Improved energy independence: Energy storage systems give homeowners more control over their energy consumption. You can choose when to use stored energy rather than relying on their grid. Additionally, since you generate your own power, battery-based storage can make you more responsible in terms of energy consumption.

Downsides of battery-based energy storage

While energy storage in solar panels has many advantages, there are also some limitations to consider, including:

  • High upfront cost: Energy storage systems can be expensive, and the cost of batteries can be a significant barrier to making 100% use of batteries. In fact, if you want to go entirely off-grid, the cost of batteries alone will make up more than 50% of your overall system cost.
  • Maintenance requirement: Energy storage systems require regular maintenance, including battery replacement, which can be costly and time-consuming. This is especially true if you are going for lead-acid batteries, which have shorter lifespans and require regular maintenance.
  • Limited capacity: Energy storage systems have a limited capacity and may not be able to store enough energy to power a home for an extended period. Again, you can design a fully integrated system, but considering the costs, its benefits may outweigh its advantages.

Net metering or batteries—which one is better for energy storage?

Net metering and batteries are both effective ways of ‘storing’ excess power and ensuring that your home has a reliable energy source. But which one is better?

The answer depends on your individual needs and circumstances.

Net metering is an attractive option for homeowners who only want to store a small amount of excess energy and don’t want to go fully off-grid. With net metering, the excess energy can be sent back to the grid in exchange for credits. You can then use these credits to offset energy costs when the panels are not generating enough power. Net metering is also a cost-effective solution, as it doesn’t require purchasing and installing a separate battery storage system.

If you are installing a grid-tied system or hybrid solar system and your state has an attractive net metering policy, it would make more sense to choose net metering.

On the other hand, energy storage in solar panels is a better option for homeowners who want a more reliable energy source, especially during power outages or blackouts due to weather conditions. They also give you more control over your energy consumption.

If you are going completely off-grid, then net metering is not an option. Alternatively, you will have to choose battery systems to cater to your needs.

The choice between net metering and energy storage will ultimately depend on your individual energy needs and budget. If you’re unsure which option is best for you, consult a professional solar installer. They will assess your needs and goals and help you make an informed decision.

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