By Anne Hoskins, CPO, Sunrun
Home batteries are changing how people use energy across California. Californians are combining rooftop solar and batteries to take control of their own power needs. People can now use residential batteries to protect themselves during power outages and from forever-increasing utility rates. Solar installers should understand the value that batteries bring to residential solar customers when approaching a sale. Here is a refresher on how combining solar and storage affects the average homeowner and the electricity markets.
What’s the overall value of solar + storage to California?
For a long time, the main challenge with solar generated electricity is that it’s not consistent or available at all times of the day. California’s current electric grid is more than 100 years old and is made of aged, unsophisticated and potentially unsafe equipment for moving electricity across long distances to reach households. Residential solar and batteries solve this problem by allowing people to generate power at their homes where they are using it. By doing this we avoid expensive grid upgrades, and, more importantly, avoid long distance transmission lines which can sag and spark fires during intense weather.
Why does solar + home batteries make sense?
In California, home batteries bring peace of mind. From keeping the lights on to ensuring a safe food supply, home batteries make power outages more manageable for Californians. Having a home battery ensures residences will have the power they need to protect families when they can’t depend on the grid.
In Hawaii, homeowners have to either store excess solar energy or lose it; they have to use the energy they produce without putting it on the grid. Rather than waste the solar-generated energy, a residential battery allows families to store the excess solar power to use later when the sun goes down. Having this ability helps save money by using less energy from the utility, plus it provides backup power in case of emergencies.
Why are residential batteries valuable to the grid?
Rooftop solar and home batteries — when aggregated in concert — behave like a virtual power plant (VPP), and this concept is being adopted across the country. Harmonized solar + storage power relieves the grid, in real time, from the strains of peak electrical demands. By using VPPs, utilities can avoid turning on dirty peaker plants in order to meet short-term electrical demands.
For over 40 years, a jet-fuel power plant in downtown Oakland, California, has polluted low-income neighborhoods. People in these communities suffer the most, a trend that plays out repeatedly across the country. Thankfully, in Oakland, the script is getting flipped. This power plant will soon be replaced with solar and batteries on 500 low-income, multifamily homes in neighborhoods that bore the brunt of this pollution. This situation is a great example of a successful VPP.
How can policymakers help increase access to home batteries?
During the past decade, the cost of installing solar panels and batteries has come down significantly. This decline made it possible for Sunrun to start offering batteries to our customers. Using LG home battery solutions, we have been able to help people protect their homes from blackouts and better manage their utility bills. While prices have decreased, forward-thinking policies also contribute to expanding consumer-access to this critical clean energy technology.
Here in California, due to the risk of wildfires, utility companies are shutting off electricity for people across the state. With an old and inefficient electric grid, even communities that aren’t threatened by wildfires are likely to lose power. These outages can last multiple days on end, and people are rightfully worried about food spoiling or having power during an emergency.
The California Public Utilities Commission just expanded a battery incentive program to help low-income and vulnerable populations living in high-risk wildfire areas gain greater access to home batteries. This is a critical policy — not only will it help people keep their lights on, but, more importantly, it will help reduce the overall risk of wildfires ignited by utility equipment.
In Massachusetts, policymakers launched the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) in 2018 aiming to increase adoption of solar and batteries by adding 1,600 MW of solar capacity. Just a year later, this program was doubled due to the rapid pace of applications.
What policies are driving battery adoption?
There has been significant progress in certain state markets thanks to smart energy policy. The California Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) and SMART in Massachusetts have helped increase deployment of batteries in those states. Across the Northeast, there is a growing trend of battery share programs. Sometimes called “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD),” these programs are driving the adoption of batteries by compensating individuals for providing stored energy on-demand. Sunrun is currently working with utilities on these types of programs in Massachusetts, Vermont and New York, and has plans for several others soon.
The biggest roadblock to this technology is outdated interconnection, permitting and metering standards. Regulators and legislators need to work with utilities and private industry to reduce the costs associated with deploying home solar and home batteries. This technology cannot be deployed fast enough, and our communities and our planet depend on it.
How else do residential batteries provide opportunity?
There is more than one way to benefit from a home battery. If every eligible home and business across California used solar and batteries, the state could generate over 9 GW of power. California has an opportunity to be independent of the antiquated electric grid.
Lynn Jurich, Sunrun’s co-founder and CEO, often talks about the future of a planet that’s run by the sun. Her vision is a world that no longer relies on fossil fuels. I can also see electric vehicles in people’s garages playing a vital role with virtual power plants. We are closer to this type of dynamic, decentralized energy future than most people realize
Anne Hoskins is CPO of residential solar provider Sunrun.