Saving Sunshine
Keeping the Lights on with Batteries and Solar Power

Saving Sunshine: Keeping the Lights on with Batteries and Solar Power

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This 30-minute film offers an interesting and easily understood explanation of the electricity grid and distribution generation, especially the role of batteries with solar. Produced by MAREA with funding from the Berks Community Foundation and distributed by Bullfrog Films. Free with MAREA membership.

In plain language, master electrician and solar installer Bruce Hankins explains AC Coupling, the combining of a grid-tied solar electric installation with an off-grid battery backup system. This technology, made possible through advanced electronics, offers benefits for all users of the entire electric system—both those with and without solar.

Teachers, electricians, system installers, owners of grid-tied systems and solar advocates find Hankins’ clear explanations in “Saving Sunshine” helpful in learning the specifics of an AC Coupled system and how it forms a local electric distribution system.

The topic is timely and offers a glimpse of what current technology that can be implemented through a mutually beneficial partnership of homeowners and utilities. The recent surge in residential photovoltaic installations and evolving inverter technology has increased applications of distributed generation. Distributed generation uses small-scale technologies to produce electricity close to the end users. One form of distributed generation is photovoltaic electricity with battery storage. Both scalable and renewable, it can offer several benefits, including lower-cost transmission and distribution, higher power reliability and security, and fewer environmental consequences than traditional power generators.

In Pennsylvania, almost all photovoltaic installations are grid-tied without battery backup. Although a small step in expansion of distributed generation, adding battery backup to existing PV systems is doable and with most of the costs being carried by the system owners, it requires minimal investments by utilities and public agencies.

The film was shot and edited by Berks Community Television of Reading, PA, and produced by Bullfrog Films of Exeter Township, PA, in partnership with MAREA. Funded was provided through a grant from the Met-Ed Sustainable Energy Fund of Berks Community Foundation. The film is distributed through Bullfrog Films.

Additional Background and Detail

According to the National Academy of Science, bringing new sources of electric power to consumers may be as much of a challenge as creating it. Generating stations are usually built away from load centers because sites are easier to find and fewer people are disturbed by the accompanying noise, emissions and activity. This power must be delivered by a high-voltage transmission system that has become increasingly stressed in recent years as growing demand has outstripped capacity. New transmission lines are difficult to build because of uncertain cost recovery and public opposition. Building small plants near or at customer sites may become more important in order to meet demand and maintain reliability.
Upgrading the U.S. electric power transmission and distribution system to the level of a “smart grid” represents a significant investment, the science group states, but would yield numerous benefits. New technologies and equipment would improve reliability, resulting in fewer system failures and quicker restoration of power when blackouts occur. Unlike the current grid, a large fraction of generation could come from renewable and intermittent sources, benefiting the environment, and a modern grid would allow for the creation of wholesale energy markets, better price signals to customers, and a more distributed system of power generation.