Residential and commercial energy storage installations are taking a hit as the U.S. tackles the coronavirus pandemic.
The behind-the-meter storage segment will install 31 percent less capacity in 2020 than previously forecast, according to a new analysis by research firm Wood Mackenzie. It’s a preliminary estimate based on early data from the nation’s coronavirus response. That means the ultimate impact could be worse—or better, if business gets back to normal sooner than currently expected.
Larger non-residential projects face difficulties wrapping up permitting, commissioning and interconnection in the midst of travel bans and shelter-in-place orders, wrote WoodMac Senior Analyst Brett Simon.
“Developers should be concerned and plan any projects today with wiggle room on delivery timeline,” Simon said. “Some are already doing this.”
The residential storage market has a different problem. It is almost entirely tied to rooftop solar, and solar companies depend almost entirely on in-person sales. That kind of contact has ground to a halt in recent weeks. Some companies have made the switch to online sales, but it’s unclear if the industry can sustain a similar pace of business without being able to close the deal in person.
The analysis contains a few brighter spots for the industry. In the early days of the pandemic, equipment supply chains were at risk of disruption: WoodMac estimated that China’s 2020 battery cell output could fall by 10 percent. These days, though, battery supply does not seem to be as much of a problem for U.S. developers, as Asian manufacturing hubs ramp back up to speed.
And the behind-the-meter sector is still on track to grow this year in absolute terms—just not as quickly as previously estimated.
Before the coronavirus brought public life in the U.S. to a halt, customer-sited storage was heading toward another record year, according to the latest Energy Storage Monitor report. Commercial installations were expected to rise to 212 megawatts, a 59 percent increase from 133 megawatts in 2019. And residential batteries were on track to triple from 139 megawatts last year to 420 megawatts this year.
Almost all of the new residential deployments were headed for California, which has been particularly hard hit by the virus. Last fall, the crisis of wildfires and utility power shutoffs increased the urgency for homeowners to switch to solar with battery backup power. The coronavirus has temporarily displaced that concern as the most pressing crisis of the moment.
The state’s shelter-in-place order exempts essential jobs, including roles related to electricity generation and home construction. But, while most rooftop solar installation work can happen outside the home, it still requires work on the electrical panel indoors. Batteries do as well.