Solar-plus-storage is a mutually beneficial marriage. The storage industry will take off with solar’s help, and more customers will go solar now with the addition of complementary storage technologies. From national companies to local contractors, solar installers have the opportunity to guide residential storage adoption across the country.
Helping solar customers with storage
Sunnova is capitalizing on the storage backup trend. The national solar installer operates in 20 states, including in the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico, and the frequent power outages on the East Coast and in the Caribbean really pushed Sunnova into the energy storage game.
“Weather conditions have changed. Utility situations have changed. There’s not a customer in most of the markets we serve that would not benefit from having storage as part of their solar solution,” said Michael Grasso, Sunnova chief marketing officer.
From coast to coast, Sunnova’s solar coverage area shows varying storage support levels. Grasso said the company tries to understand each of the markets and what the relevant consumer benefit of solar-plus-storage is. In Hawaii, solar generators can’t export their power to the grid, so they’re better off storing and using the energy they do generate. In California, time-of-use markets make it beneficial to solar consumers to use less grid-energy during peak times when it’s most expensive. On the East Coast, extreme weather events and aging infrastructure can bring down the grid for extended periods of time, so backup power is a real need for some.
In Arizona, local solar installer Sun Valley Solar Solutions integrates demand control solutions into solar projects to allow solar customers to take advantage of utility storage incentives. One major demand element storage can assist with is running air conditioning even during on-peak times.
“We work with customers to create a safe space in the house, because it does get so hot here in Arizona. We don’t want to sweat out the on-peak times. We want to be able to live comfortably,” said Sun Valley CEO Russ Patzer. “So through a mini-split and then putting that on backup on the critical load, they could actually have a spot in the house that is comfortable to live in.”
As utilities change their rate plans, electricity customers are becoming more knowledgeable about what storage can do to help.
“There’s definitely a higher awareness of energy storage in the U.S.,” said Sunnova’s Grasso. “Historically, the storage product was something that was reserved for fringe markets or people living in cabins off-grid. With the advent of a higher-quality, more competitively priced lithium-ion battery solution and the solar energy equipment manufacturers better embracing and simplifying the ability to roll the product to market, we’ve seen consumers equally gravitate toward it.”
Solar installer RevoluSun has had a similar experience with selling storage in Massachusetts. As a Tesla Powerwall dealer, RevoluSun VP of business development Brian Sadler said the company was first getting calls just because the Powerwall was seen as the must-have new toy. Local power outages also fueled interest in energy storage as an alternative to pricy generators. But with the passage of the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program in September 2018, solar customers in the state can be further compensated by adding energy storage systems. Sadler said now instead of just installing storage as backup energy, RevoluSun is seeing increased interest in storage as an incentive buy.
“It’s getting to a place where it’s an easier conversation now because there’s a monetary benefit as well,” Sadler said.
Making solar-plus-storage care and maintenance easy
RevoluSun went with the Tesla battery product to continue to provide its solar customers with the top warranties in the industry.
“For our solar systems, we want 25 years across the board, everything guaranteed,” Sadler said. “Tesla falls into that pot in terms of the Powerwall,” even though it has a 10-year warranty, which is to be expected with batteries and solar electronics.
Sunnova also works with Tesla and LG Chem for increased warranty coverage. All Sunnova solar systems get wrapped in a 25-year warranty, even the storage system. The company will repair or replace all equipment and ensure the full solar-plus-storage system is operating at a high quality.
“Whether it’s a third-party ownership product or a loan product or solar-plus-storage, we provide a 25-year bumper-to-bumper warranty for that product,” Grasso said. “We know it breaks. We have our own trucks and technicians across the markets that we serve that are responsible for going out and maintaining systems.”
Sunnova solar-plus-storage customers can choose to finance their systems through PPAs, leases or loans, although Grasso said different ownership models change the system upkeep required of the consumer.
“My belief is that a third-party ownership product is better for a solar-plus-storage solution because it’s more complicated and there are more facets to the product itself,” he said. “You really want somebody to manage that product for you to ensure the battery is programmed for the market conditions that you’re operating in. Also, the sophistication of those technologies is advancing at a pretty regular clip because there’s a lot of software updates and other things that are happening. I think it makes a lot of sense for that to be a third-party owned and managed solution.”
Sadler estimates that close to 50% of RevoluSun’s solar installations this year will also include storage. But there’s still a lot of education to be done, explaining what having a battery really means.
“That ‘off-grid’ term, that’s what you commonly hear. Technically speaking, you will be off-grid in times of an outage, but you’re not going to remove those lines from your home because that’s where all these incentives come from in terms of the compensation you’re going to get for just producing solar and being a distributed generation site,” Sadler said. “Explaining that all to customers…when you need to be off-grid, you’re going to be off-grid, but the rest of the time you don’t want to be off-grid. Let’s use the grid as your backup.”
Sunnova said that interest in storage is getting more of those on-the-fence solar customers to actually sign the deal.
“I think that over the next couple of years, you’re just going to continue to see an explosion of storage in the marketplace,” Grasso said. “It is getting a lot of previously non-intending households to consider solar-plus-storage because they weren’t necessarily interested in just solar. We definitely think that all markets will be viable opportunities for storage.”