The solar industry has made continual progress in its technology advancements over the last decade. Some advancements, while remarkable, didn’t make it through the challenging market conditions. Solar shingles are another example of an advanced product idea but it didn’t survive the installation problems that sometimes caused fires. There is always R&D going on to keep pushing the envelope but it takes many years to get to market and see if a new product is successfully adopted.
The solar panel today is not all that different from 20 years ago. They look almost the same and manufacturers are constantly tinkering with them to get an edge over their competitors. Incremental changes have kept panels moving towards higher efficiency and higher power rating, but waiting for a more powerful panel may not really pay off.
For Example: If you needed 10 panels to produce X amount of power in the year 2000, today you may only need 8 or 9. That could save you up to $2000 off your purchase. If you installed solar in the year 2000 however, you could have conservatively saved $5400 off your utility bill. (@10 180 watt panels, @$0.15 /kWh). That is more than double the savings of waiting for a better panel.
The most important new technology is energy storage for residential grid connected solar. This is a game changer for several reasons.
1. BATTERY TECHNOLOGY Energy storage has changed to leaner, lighter and safer, bringing costs down. The current focus is on storing solar power that you generate during the day that isn’t used (most people at work, school etc.). You then tap into it at night when your solar system is not making power. Without battery storage, the solar power you didn’t use during the day is automatically “dumped” back onto the utility grid and regulated by net metering agreements with your utility.
2. NET METERING Utilities initially gave customers credit on their bill for whatever amount of solar electricity their system dumped back onto the utility grid, equal to their current $/kWh charges. Now most utilities are moving towards crediting only at the wholesale price of a kWh and some are not giving any credit at all. Battery storage for night use can eliminate loosing market value for power dumped back to the grid.
3. BILL SAVINGS To make energy storage even more appealing, some utilities are going to be moving their consumers to “Time of Use” (TOU) charges for electricity. The time of day you use electricity will determine what rate you pay. The highest rates are in the late afternoon and evening when most people return home and your solar system is winding down. Energy storage as part of your solar system is a smart way to diminish or even avoid the TOU rates.
This technology is available now and more versions will be coming to market soon. There is no compelling technology reason to wait on getting a solar system. But it would be prudent to wait and see how the market shakes out on storage and then purchase your best option. Manufacturers will be marketing their wares to retrofit already existing solar systems. In California, the TOU change starts in 2019 so there is time to watch the market develop. New industry products take time to see if the market supports them. You want to have products that have proven quality, performance and financial stability. You want your manufacturer to be around to honor their warranties if you ever need them.