Arizona utilities have long had a give-and-take relationship with solar generation in the state. Arizona Public Service (APS), which covers the bulk of the state, had wanted mandatory demand charges for solar rooftop owners, but a 2017 agreement with renewable energy advocates ultimately established specific rate design options without demand charges. Phoenix and central-Arizona utility Salt River Project (SRP) initiated its own demand charges in 2015 that has significantly limited solar’s rise in the area.
But these unfortunate solar situations have given rise to other opportunities in Arizona—namely, energy storage. This works hand-in-hand with the utilities’ original reasoning for the rate charges, to better manage energy use during peak demand times. Energy storage smooths the elusive duck curve of renewable energy production and electricity demand.
Arizona solar installers have adapted to the new normal customer conversation. Sun Valley Solar Solutions now integrates demand control solutions into solar projects and has become the go-to battery expert, all to keep momentum going in the Arizona solar market.
“That’s the biggest misconception out there,” said CEO Russ Patzer, that solar is dead in Arizona. “It does work. We have to add additional technology and then it works better than before. We’re also benefiting the grid significantly with our new technologies.”
Sun Valley Solar Solutions, which started in 2006 and now employs 120 people, has had to shift its marketing and education materials to explaining demand control and energy storage.
“It takes significantly more time to get them up to speed on why their rates are different these days,” Patzer said. “It’s just investing a lot more time to get them comfortable with demand control and energy storage and solar, how they integrate together, how it’s impacting the grid and how they can be a contributor to the grid that helps everybody.”
There has also been a learning curve for the solar company transitioning into new technologies. Luckily, many battery manufacturers offer significant training and certified installation courses to get Sun Valley Solar Solutions installers and salespeople comfortable with the new products.
“We’re an engineering-driven company. My business partner and I are both engineers. I’m having a heyday again—this is back to basic engineering,” Patzer said. “You’ve got the problem, how do you solve it, what creative ideas can you come up with and thinking outside the box on how to dial this in.”
Sun Valley Solar Solutions solar customers now have the ability to monitor energy usage and stagger when electricity is being used. Air conditioners work in overdrive during off-peak demand times, and appliance use is spread out during on-peak times. Patzer said APS and SRP approached solar installers to help during peak load times.
“We’re finally working together to solve the big picture problem of their peak loads,” he said. “We’re all learning together. Everyone is watching closely how these technologies behave and making sure they’re long-term, good products that will help solve our mutual problems.”
Since it’s a learning process for all parties, Sun Valley Solar Solutions is checking in with its customers to gather information on what storage systems work best and also make sure they are getting the best results.
“It’s taking our relationship with our customers to the next level, that we’re engaging them frequently throughout the year as they’re learning how the technology works,” Patzer said. “Rather than old solar, which is just turn it on, shake their hand and tell them have a great day. We’re actually engaging with our customers to understand what their real goals and needs are.”
Patzer set a goal for 2018 to have 50 battery systems installed. Halfway through the year, Sun Valley Solar Solutions already had 70 battery systems sold and about half installed.
“It’s surprised me how quickly the market is adapting and embracing these new technologies,” he said. “We want to get our customers comfortable, our engineers comfortable, our installers comfortable with demand management and energy storage, then really focus on an effort, working with the utilities to ensure that the rate plans and the customer adoption is there to revolutionize the grid.”
Where Arizona was once a no-man’s land for solar, the state is emerging as a leader in incorporating new technologies and energy storage.
“We’re starting to see the mindset transition that the grid can function, it can be profitable for the utility companies and the solar customers,” Patzer said. “Everyone can work together to solve the big picture. I see us playing a primary role in being the pragmatic company working with the utilities, working with the customers. It’s not a fight between us. It’s an engineering challenge that we should take on and evolve this industry to the next level.”
This month’s Contractors Corner podcast is sponsored by DuPont.
For over 40 years, DuPont PV materials have delivered proven performance and lasting value.