Elon Musk has just told the world that humanity can achieve zero-carbon energy generation.

The CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, who is routinely listed as one of the most influential people of the planet, believes two technologies will make this happen: solar PV and energy storage.   

Launching his company’s foray into the stationary energy storage space, Musk said: “Solar panels and batteries are the only path I know that can do this [decarbonsie our electricity supply]. It’s a path that we must, and will, take”.

Musk’s global profile will light the touchpaper for media interest underneath solar and energy storage — the lofty promise of renewable energy on tap and available 24/7 is the ultimate goal for many people.

For those of us operating in the solar sector, Musk’s ‘revelations’ are nothing new. Referring to storage as the ‘Holy Grail’ of solar has now become a well worn trope. But something is changing — this year’s Large-Scale Solar UK conference was attended by hard-nosed developers, savvy financial institutes and pragmatic energy infrastructure stalwarts, and all of them were talking about energy storage.

You see, as Duncan Bott from Belectric explained to attendees, energy storage coupled with solar farms provides a huge number of compelling business models right now. Essentially, solar and storage can provide a solution to almost all of our energy infrastructure worries now. Solar can provide grid stability through balancing services, can defer the need for costly upgrades, can provide base power and frequency response. Bott explained: “When you start to combine business models, that’s what’s really exciting. You can do primary, secondary, fast frequency and enhanced frequency control just off the bat now.”

It’s a point that Dr Marek Kubik was at pains to point out to the gathered audience, his two points of business to explain why energy storage and renewables are a perfect partner, and to convince us that utility-scale advanced energy storage is commercially available today.

Kubik explained that non-subsidised, utility-scale solar storage projects are out there now, competing on a like-for-like basis with other energy technologies albeit not with the traditional energy arbitrage model (storing excess power generated at off-peak times and selling it on-peak) that people might expect; Kubik predicts that this model is still commercially out of reach, but not for long.

The immediate business opportunity for energy storage, explained Kubik, was in ramping response to help grid operators deal with afternoon/evening demand. At the moment this ramping response is met by traditional generators (coal & gas turbines etc.), which Kubik explained is very inefficient because we are holding back potential efficiency, which increases the cost of electricity produced (not to mention the carbon/kWh).

Kubik continued to outline how storage provides a flexible, precise response to the grid operators’ challenges, hence, its increasing value proposition. Taken in the context of the cost of grid balancing and operation – which has almost doubled in recent years – and the plummeting cost of batteries – which have fallen by around 80% in the last seven years – you can begin to understand the potential of storage and solar.

Ray Noble, storage and electric vehicle advisor for the Renewable Energy Association, confirmed that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will be looking seriously at storage during the next parliament.

The impact of Musk’s evangelical endorsement of solar PV and storage might be hard to quantify initially. But one thing's for sure: people are excited and talking about viable solutions for 100% renewable energy and the solar sector will be at the vanguard of possibly the most important step change in a number of generations.

Do me a favour, if you haven’t explored the possibility of storage and solar, look again — or you’ll be left behind.