Last week, I highlighted three fast-growth solar investment opportunities available on equity crowdfunding platforms today. This week, I’m talking about future solar investment opportunities.
Right now, venture capitalists have access to these exciting solar-related opportunities. But I believe that they could become available to equity crowdfunding investors at some point in the future.
So if you want to have an edge on pinpointing the next high-growth solar startup investment opportunity, keep reading. Industry knowledge is an informed investor’s best asset.
Solar Investment Opportunity No. 1: Improving the Scalability of Solar Construction Projects
The world needs to commit to using 74 more terawatts (TW) of solar energy before 2050 in order to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels (per the Paris Agreement). That means we need to radically accelerate and change solar construction processes.
I was made aware of this problem when I met Matt Campbell, founder and CEO of Terabase Energy. On top of the time it requires to plan solar projects and get authorization to build them, solar panel installation can be a complex and time-consuming process. All this makes it difficult for solar companies to scale their businesses.
Terabase is using automation to reduce solar panel costs and installation time. The startup’s software and robots help prepare solar panel arrays in a production line on site to reduce the time spent in the field — and the probability of human error.
Improving the scalability of utility-scale solar projects also improves their operations and maintenance. Startups like Solavio are building autonomous robots that can clean solar panels. In short, startups that reduce costs and overhead and maximize solar panel performance present a great opportunity for startup investors.
Solar Investment Opportunity No. 2: Improving Grid Connections and Transmission Line Capacity
Some of the major obstacles to expanding solar energy are the limits of our existing infrastructure. The volume of renewable energy projects currently under construction is greater than the capacity of transmission lines needed to bring those projects to life.And connecting renewable projects to the grid simply takes too long. Many solar projects that could be producing electricity right now have to wait years before they’ll be able to provide customers with grid electricity.
So startups that can accelerate the process of connecting to the grid would be solving one of the biggest pain points of the industry. For example, Pearl Street Technologies automates the modeling of grid interconnection studies and helps grid actors connect projects faster. Startups that can increase the capacity of existing transmission lines are also crucial. The startup LineVision uses an advanced sensor platform to increase existing power line capacity by 40%.
Solar Investment Opportunity No. 3: Reducing the Solar Industry’s Reliance on Rare Metals
Solar panels are made from a variety of materials, including silicon, copper, and silver. The increasing demand for solar panels will put pressure on the exploitation of these materials.
Let’s take silver for example. Photovoltaic panel production is on track to use up more than 20% of the world’s silver supply by 2027 — and 85% to 98% of global silver reserves by 2050. This will likely increase silver prices and threaten companies’ ability to produce photovoltaic panels beyond 2050.
Some solar startups are already trying to reduce their reliance on silver. SunDrive is working to replace silver with copper, while scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy are using aluminum to reduce the amount of silver solar panels require by 30%.
Part of the solution also relies on recycling the rare metals used in old solar panels. Startups like Solarcycle can get back up to 95% of rare elements in photovoltaic panels. Recycling old panels reduces the need and the price of new rare metals and makes it easier to grow our solar energy capacity.
Solar Investment Opportunity No. 4: Developing Smart and Virtual Power Plant Technologies
Whether providing software or hardware, startups that can improve power plants have promising opportunities ahead. Today’s power grid operators have to balance demand projections and production capacities to always maintain a balance between electricity demand and grid supply. New technologies are emerging to make this process smoother.
Smart power plants help utilities companies manage demand by intelligently switching between solar energy production and battery usage. It provides instantaneous and reliable power to the grid. Companies like Avantus are already commercializing these systems.
Many startups are also working on virtual power plants. These are cloud-based plants that can remotely monitor different small- and medium-scale electricity generation systems — like solar panels, batteries, or wind turbines — to stabilize the grid. In practice, the grid can rely on home thermostats, electric vehicle (EV) batteries, home appliances, and residential solar panels to either reduce demand or increase the supply of electricity on the grid.
For example, Kapacity.io shifts buildings’ electricity consumption to periods of lower prices and lower demand. It helps customers reduce their electricity bills and reduces the grid’s evening peak demand, which is often supplied by natural gas peaker plants. As a result, Kapacity.io helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Another example, Stem, is an AI-driven, cloud-based virtual power plant solution that balances grid load, battery usage, renewable electricity production, and EV charging.
Decarbonizing the grid will require the deployment of new software and hardware solutions to build solar plants faster, manage them efficiently, reduce solar panels’ reliance on rare metals, improve transmission line capacity, and ensure grid reliability.
The grid is changing to adapt to the new world. Make sure your startup investment portfolio is adapting too.