California retirement community expected to save $250,000 a year with Sharp solar+storage system

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The NW Photon Energy and Paradise Village Retirement Community, a senior Independent Assisted and Memory Care Community in San Diego, Calif., is adding a 240 kW/324 kWh SmartStorage system from Sharp in six buildings on the community’s grounds and integrated with 516 kW of solar PV. The decision was a no-brainer after a detailed analysis of Paradise Village’s energy usage revealed that the hybrid solar plus SmartStorage system is expected to yield an estimated $90,000 in demand savings annually. Additionally, when factoring in the solar PV system coupled with the SmartStorage system, Paradise Village can expect to save over $250,000 a year on its utility bills (this includes both energy and demand savings).

“The significant savings unlocked by addressing peak demand may have a positive impact on the quality of life for the seniors in Paradise Village’s care, so we’re very proud to be involved in this project,” said Carl Mansfield, General Manager and Founder of Sharp’s U.S. based Energy Systems and Services Group. “In addition to this retirement home, we’ve now had SmartStorage systems installed at a wide variety of facilities such as lumber yards, non-profits, service stations, school campuses, manufacturing plants, and more. This demonstrates how economically impactful our energy storage system can be for virtually any commercial and industrial building that is struggling with high utility bills that are punctuated by expensive demand charges.”

RELATED: Generate solar+storage proposals quicker with Sharp’s SmartStorage platform 

Paradise Village is a resort-style Independent, Assisted Living and Memory Care Community located in San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) utility territory. The multi-building community consumes a significant amount of energy from HVAC, refrigeration and a variety of medical equipment that can have a significant startup load, which in turn increases demand request peaks with SDG&E. In some parts of California, up to 50 percent of commercial utility customers’ bills are a result of demand charges, making them ideal candidates for solar plus SmartStorage systems. It is estimated that Paradise Village’s system will reduce demand by over 2,000 kW annually.

Paradise Village’s SmartStorage system installation is backed by Sharp’s innovative 10-year Asset Management Service Agreement, which provides routine and unscheduled maintenance coupled with a 10-year demand reduction performance guarantee. If guaranteed demand reductions are not met within the terms of the agreement, Sharp will compensate for the deficit in promised peak demand reductions.

— Solar Builder magazine

Microsoft completes largest corporate solar energy purchase in U.S. to date

microsoft solar purchase

Microsoft Corp. announced the purchase of 315 MW of energy from Pleinmont I and II, two new solar projects in the commonwealth of Virginia. This represents the single largest corporate purchase of solar energy ever in the United States and will enable Microsoft to make significant progress toward its goal of reaching 60 percent by early 2020. The Pleinmont projects are part of a larger 500-MW solar development, owned and operated by sPower, an AES and AIMCo company.

“Today, we’re signing the largest corporate solar agreement in the United States, a 315 megawatt project in Virginia that will move us ahead of schedule in creating a cleaner cloud,” said Brad Smith, president, Microsoft. “This project means more than just gigawatts, because our commitment is broader than transforming our own operations; it’s also about helping others access more renewable energy.”

The project is owned and will be operated by sPower, a leading independent renewable energy power producer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Once operational, Pleinmont I and II will consist of more than 750,000 solar panels spread across more than 2,000 acres, and produce approximately 715,000 MWh a year.

Related: Context Clues: Know where to find the value when selling commercial solar solutions

“Microsoft’s participation is a game-changer for this project and for other buyers,” said Ryan Creamer, CEO of sPower. “Their early commitment helped ensure that the project continued to move forward and come to fruition at a time of regulatory uncertainty. Microsoft’s large off-take also helped us offer very cost-competitive options for other buyers looking at our Virginia portfolios. This model broadens the ability for buyers of all sizes to participate in a large project like this, yet only take the megawatts they need for their business goals. We’re proud to be working with Microsoft on this innovative approach.”

Project fun facts

At 500 MW, the full project will be the largest solar project in Virginia and is equal to the entire amount of solar power currently produced in the commonwealth. It will also rank as the fifth largest solar project in the country. Microsoft has a sizeable presence in Virginia, both in terms of its physical presence in the form of datacenters and office buildings and its work to bring connectivity to all citizens in the form of broadband technology. This is its second solar power purchase in Virginia. This deal also represents two milestones for the company. With recent deals, Microsoft has met its target to power at least 50 percent of its datacenters with clean energy by 2018.

— Solar Builder magazine

Context Clues: Know where to find the value when selling commercial solar solutions

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Land in any airport, and the view tells the story. Commercial buildings with fresh paint and no solar panels on them yet. Residential customers may commit to solar for a variety of personal and ethical reasons, but nonresidential property owners tend toward the pragmatic.

They make business decisions based on profits.

This historically lagging solar segment is starting to come around though. In the Q3 2017 U.S. Solar Market Insight report from GTM Research, which showed a 22 percent decline for the overall industry year over year, also showed that nonresidential solar grew 22 percent, installing 481 MW.

The business is out there. The installers who present solutions based on a clear understanding of nonresidential energy costs can build momentum in what may turn out to be the largest solar segment of all.

Utility tariff structures

Commercial and industrial customers have complex energy needs that go far beyond a simple “go / no-go” decision for a solar project. In particular, these customers pay much of their electricity bill in the form of demand charges. These charges can be quite complex, featuring “ratchets” and other calculations resulting in very high charges that can last for many months after a simple error in operations. In many utility service territories, demand charges comprise more than one-third of the customer’s electricity bill; in a few, it’s more than one-half.

In addition to rising demand charges, changes in time-of-use (TOU) rate structures in many states have customers scrambling for solutions. While there is no doubt that solar can deliver significant energy savings to a nonresidential customer, a traditional solar installation provides little or no reduction in demand charges for most accounts, nor any control over the time of day when energy is consumed.

A solar installation that delivers big energy savings may result in little or no demand savings. As shown in Figure 1, a single cloud at the wrong time on the wrong day can wipe out a month’s worth of savings. Without appropriate demand management technology, net load can “spike” to create a new monthly peak demand.

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Figure 1: Solar Plus Demand Management, Office Building, July 2015

Solar providers are increasingly finding that when they propose new projects to their nonresidential customers, these customers are more informed and sophisticated about their energy needs. Odds are good that a storage provider has already come calling to see if a battery system could help with TOU rates and demand charges, but batteries are still very expensive, and in states without significant subsidies, they often don’t pencil out on their own, either.

In our interviews with solar professionals this past summer, we were told over and over that because of changes in the market, “it’s time to get off the roof and come inside.” Until a solar provider has a more complete picture of a customer’s energy needs — their energy usage patterns and the business needs driving those patterns — that provider is competing at a disadvantage. In reality, any solar solution needs to be presented in the context of these usage patterns and needs.

From Tesla cars to Gigafactories, there is a lot of news about battery storage, and as battery costs continue dropping, some smart solar providers are exploring becoming solar-plus-storage providers. In some states with high incentives for batteries (and with some clever use of the Investment Tax Credit), this can be a good combination. In many cases, load flexibility is both more valuable and less expensive than batteries. Simple changes in operation (undetectable to building occupants in commercial buildings and easy to manage in many industrial facilities) can offset the variation in solar output and eliminate spikes that cause high demand charges, but only with the right tools. Such load flexibility can actually complement storage solutions. With the right analysis, taking advantage of flexible loads can help a customer to right-size energy storage subsystems for a more cost-effective total package. The solar triple play — solar plus storage plus load flexibility — can be a potent solution to a variety of customer energy challenges.

RELATED: Our Project of the Year for 2017 is a great example of finding value

Expanding the comfort zone

There are no serious technical impediments to delivering nonresidential solar solutions that bring both energy and demand charge savings. The trends are all in favor of such solutions:

  • Storage devices (both batteries and thermal storage) are declining in price quite rapidly; new announcements from both established and new storage vendors appear weekly.
  • Building and industrial controls are becoming more sophisticated and more standardized.
  • Sensors and data networks are increasingly affordable and more universally deployed.
  • Big data analytics are becoming more widespread, powerful and accessible.
  • Software solutions taking advantage of machine learning and advanced control algorithms will soon be widely available for application in real-world customer energy solutions.

As with many new major shifts, the technology outlook is bright, but the biggest change required is cultural. Solar providers with a high comfort level matching panels and inverters to customer roofs and electrical systems may face a steep learning curve when moving into the less-familiar world of building and industrial operations. Inside the facility, it’s a whole different world, but one that every complete customer energy solutions provider must understand.

The good news is that many of the initial fact-finding steps are the same as those required for solar installations everywhere. The customer billing data, load profile data and utility tariff information remain the foundation of any good proposed solution. Creating a complete energy solution, however, requires a more complete supplier ecosystem than most current solar providers can deliver alone.

Some of the most fruitful conversations we had last year at Intersolar and Solar Power International were about the development of that bigger ecosystem. Numerous battery vendors, many of whom originally came out of the market for small, off-grid applications, began to describe how their offerings could be adapted for commercial building applications in demand-charge reductions. Software startups, many of whom got their start from DOE SunShot awards, contributed ideas for better data visualization and control. And while control vendors have not even been present at past solar events, a few are starting to recognize the synergies between solar and load flexibility.

The future is promising for innovative solar providers who are willing to broaden their offerings and embrace a total energy solution approach for commercial and industrial customers. We invite feedback and conversation with any solar providers with insights into how the nonresidential market is changing, and how to strengthen the emerging ecosystem of nonresidential energy solution providers.

John T. Powers is founder and CEO of Extensible Energy. An energy economist with more than 30 years of experience in consulting and technology development for the electric utility industry, Powers has worked in energy efficiency, demand response and renewables for most of his career. He currently serves as project officer for the Community Solar Value Project, a DOE SunShot project helping utilities to develop better community solar programs.

— Solar Builder magazine

Largest solar rooftop system in downtown Honolulu on the way

Ensync energy systems

EnSync Energy Systems, a distributed energy resources (DERs) developer, is expanding the solar system it is installing on the rooftops of the Aloha Tower Marketplace, which is operated by Hawai’i Pacific University (HPU) under a lease with the State of Hawai’i Aloha Tower Development Corporation. The latest expansion more than doubles the capacity of the photovoltaic (PV) system to 660 kW, making it the largest solar installation in downtown Honolulu upon completion.

EnSync Energy will add 350 kw in PV capacity to the system under a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) it signed with HPU and an undisclosed investor. The solar energy will power HPU’s revitalized Aloha Tower Marketplace, a mixed-use space featuring university student residences, community spaces, restaurants and shops.

“It’s fitting that the largest PV installation in downtown Honolulu is now located at the landmark Aloha Tower Marketplace,” said Dan Nordloh, executive vice president of EnSync Energy. “EnSync Energy has an active presence in Hawai’i, so we are particularly proud to deliver even more clean, reliable and low-cost energy to an institution that plays a prominent role in the cultural and economic life of the state.”

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EnSync Energy designed the system based on customized analysis of Aloha Tower Marketplace’s current energy consumption patterns and anticipated future energy needs. After conducting energy and price modelling, EnSync Energy found that a grid-ready PV installation would yield the most savings for the University.

“We look forward to expanding our solar energy system with EnSync Energy, which offered us a simple way to further contribute to the state’s renewable energy goals while also reducing our costs,” said Bruce Edwards, chief financial officer for HPU. “The solar panels on Aloha Tower Marketplace’s rooftops showcase our commitment to clean energy, to our students and to the greater Honolulu community.”

Construction of both phases is expected to be completed by early 2019. HPU may consider a third solar installation phase under the terms of the PPA.

— Solar Builder magazine

Strata Solar is looking to C&I, community solar as part of growth strategy

strata solar

N.C.-based Strata Solar says it has plans to strategically acquire commercial and industrial (C&I) and community solar assets to add to its existing portfolio of utility-scale projects. The move comes as the company, which already owns over 800 MW in assets, aims to expand its long-term ownership portfolio to now include rooftop and community solar projects across the U.S.

With the addition of Chief Structured Finance Officer Jimmy Chuang from GCL and formerly SolarCity, Strata is now actively looking to acquire both operational and development assets while also supporting upcoming municipal and commercial sustainability efforts across the country.

“In just two years, Strata Solar Commercial has built over 60 MW across 14 states, developing a strong presence in the C&I and Community Solar markets as an EPC provider. We are ready to further leverage our experience owning and operating utility-scale projects to become long-term asset owners in the C&I space,” said Chuang. “This will allow us to expand our offering to a broader customer base in line with our corporate goals and long-term strategy.”

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Strata is looking to support the growth of its C&I business across the U.S. by working with corporate sustainability managers and local governments to achieve their renewable objectives.

“Strata is giving businesses and industrial customers direct access to cheaper, clean energy while allowing them to hedge against unpredictable energy costs,” said Henry Dziuba, Strata’s Chief Revenue Officer. “As a market leader in the renewable energy space, with over a decade of experience and over 1.3 GW in operating solar assets, Strata offers corporate clients the security and bankability they are looking for in a long-term investment partner.”

— Solar Builder magazine