Understand the pros and cons of software and communications decisions

software and communications strategy

At times, it is optimal to have connected devices in place. At other times, it creates another point of failure.

As is true in every industry today, solar installations are becoming smarter and more connected by leveraging the power of real-time data, remote controls and responsiveness to improve project and product performance. Project owners and financing partners cheer software platforms that enable sophisticated communications.

Without question, software and communications can play an important role in many storage projects. First and foremost, battery communication capabilities may be required or at least strongly recommended when integrating with certain inverters, chargers and other power electronics.

At the residential level, such software and communications allow for higher level monitoring capabilities that provide both the installer and homeowner with granular data on system performance and health. Software can also improve ease-of-programming.

When it comes to C&I projects, software and communications plays an even more important role. These large-scale projects often combine large numbers of interconnected technology assets and hardware that require communications and software to communicate with one another and perform as an integrated system.

But be careful…

That said, as important as these technologies are to the future of the renewable energy industry, be sure to proceed with caution.

At times, it is optimal to have connected devices in place. At other times, it creates another point of failure. When an installation’s on-site management is dependent on interconnectivity through networks and airwaves, what happens when those conduits cease to function?

In an environment in which renewable energy + storage deployments have become more and more critical in the face of escalating catastrophic events, it’s important to recognize that software and communications can create barriers to energy resilience when the grid and Internet networks are unavailable. The result is stranded assets that do not have the ability to turn back on without the intervention of a highly trained professional.

After Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, for example, homeowners did not have the ability to bring their systems back online, and expert software technicians were unavailable to service offline inverters and energy storage systems for some time. The same issue has posed problems in remote communities, where technical expertise to reset and restore system function has not been available locally. In this kind of situation it often makes sense to have a simpler, user-friendly battery system design.

Be sure to weigh the added cost and complexity of installing a smart storage system. With additional wiring and programming required, installation can be longer and more cumbersome without added benefit.

Unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to communications and software. In some cases, connectivity is essential to project success. But in other situations, building resiliency is better achieved through a simpler approach that empowers the end user to own, control, manage and fix their own systems. The key for installers is to understand both and be able to advise their customers as to which is most advantageous for their unique circumstance and project objects.

This post and the entire 12 Days of Storage was contributed by SimpliPhi.

— Solar Builder magazine

EnSync Energy adds demand management function to its solar + storage Smart Home platform

Ensync Smart home

EnSync Energy Systems is taking its innovative line of residential and commercial solar plus storage systems and asset control platforms one step further with the addition of demand management capability.

This new EnSync Smart Home system integrates the management of on-site solar plus storage with the management of demand from residential appliances, including electric water heaters, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, lighting sources and electric vehicle charging stations. By enabling this level of coordination between photovoltaics (PV), batteries, the utility grid and home consumption, the system not only optimizes energy for price and reliability, but also increases energy autonomy.

The product will debut with integration of smart water heater load control, then expand to integrate electric vehicle charge control, and finally to other major appliances by the end of next year.

“The EnSync Smart Home system enables both energy independence and cost savings by integrating utility rate information and electricity supply from PV, energy storage and the grid with electricity demand data from major appliances in the home,” said Brad Hansen, CEO of EnSync Energy.

How it works

For example, by integrating water heater load into the system, the system can intelligently manage heating of the water to occur at lower-use times of day, such as before anyone in the home wakes up or during peak PV generation, when the home is producing excess electricity, to have the water ready for the evening. The system can also intelligently discharge the battery to offset load sources in order to minimize grid electricity.

“This ability to intelligently offset home loads with storage enables the consumer to minimize adverse impact from tiered rates, time-of-day rates and demand charges from the utility, while also maintaining the quality of life and comfort the homeowner is accustomed to,” Hansen says.

The EnSync Smart Home is the latest development of the EnSync Home Energy System, which debuted in May 2018. Designed for multi-unit properties and residential communities, the system’s modular structure, DC BUS architecture and IoE communications, command and control platform optimizes the economics of clean energy for both multi-family properties and individual homes. Its lithium-iron-phosphate battery chemistry also ensures greater energy storage safety.

To achieve further grid independence, EnSync Smart Home can also integrate individual residential units into an energy sharing network with the EnSync True Peer-to-Peer DC-Link. By allowing individual residential units to exchange electricity directly with one another, this feature mitigates the inefficiencies created by vacancy rates, time-of-day absence and micro-loading effects in multi-unit properties or communities, increasing utilization of the solar generation across the network as a whole.

Being able to manage the energy supply and load in the home in an integrated and intelligent fashion will be key criteria for achieving market leadership in the residential energy storage market, which EnSync Energy estimates will be worth more than $9 billionover the next five years, with a compound annual growth rate of more than 60 percent.

— Solar Builder magazine

Design a battery bank to grow with your customers

modular battery storage design

Whether residential or commercial, energy needs and usage inevitably evolve over time — most often with power loads and required energy increasing as operations or families grow.
With that reality in mind, the ability to deliver energy storage solutions that can scale and expand in sync with an end customer’s needs is an important installation selling point.

Understanding scalability

Battery size and modularity can make a big difference when it comes to project scalability, optimization and ease of installation, but not every battery has the ability to scale. Some are limited to two-to-four in parallel configurations, while other batteries are designed to scale to any desired kWh.

For example, at the Taft Botanical Garden in Ojai, Calif., the property owners realized that their ground mount solar array was generating significantly more energy than anticipated — and more than their initial 21 kWh battery bank could store. At the same time, special events at the garden were taxing the system with high demand. The system installers were able to easily double the size of the battery bank by adding new batteries to the existing bank (blending old and new), harnessing more solar power to the benefit of the property’s operational needs and budget.

Consider kWh optimization and space utilization

Energy storage modularity is also a benefit when it comes to optimizing storage for each unique deployment case and environment. Smaller building blocks allow more flexibility to narrow in on the exact kWh capacity best suited to a project. Modular batteries also allow more freedom when it comes to space utilization, making it possible to install in small, crowded or uniquely configured locations.

At a home in England, for example, the homeowners had only one, tiny “Harry Potter-sized” under-stair closet available to house their battery bank. With small, modular batteries, that installation location proved to be no problem.

Simplify, accelerate your installs

Common battery weights range from 50 lbs to more than 400 lbs. Depending on how much your battery weighs, the installation process will be very different.

Larger batteries require heavy equipment to install and present limitations as to how they can be installed. For example, mounting a 400 lb battery on a wall would be impractical, whereas simple brackets and standard shelving can easily house smaller, lighter weight batteries. You may also find other limitations with larger battery building blocks such as doorway restrictions and stairwell limitations when installing.

When it comes to choosing the right battery for your next storage project, consider solutions that can scale and expand. The added flexibility and simplicity will be appreciated by customers both in the present and years down the road.

This post and the entire 12 Days of Storage was contributed by SimpliPhi.

— Solar Builder magazine

Demand charge management tips for the commercial, industrial segment

Simpliphi commercial solar storage installation

Storage solutions must be customized to align with the specific power or energy demands of a commercial or industrial customer.

It’s no secret that commercial energy users in every industry are seeking to reduce energy costs today and achieve long-term cost predictability for the future as utilities implement increasingly unfavorable rate structures. Energy storage provides a powerful, multifaceted solution to lock in rates and achieve power security.

Savings opportunities

Energy storage can provide a significant ROI when it comes to utility bill savings:

Demand charges: Demand charges are often calculated based on the highest 15-minute average electrical use recorded in one month which are then applied to all 12 months. As a result, demand charges make up a significant percentage of all commercial and industrial utility bills — typically between 30 and 70 percent. In the U.S., 25 percent of commercial customers (roughly five million businesses) pay demand charge rates of more than $15/kWh and these demand charges continue to rise. Energy storage enables commercial and industrial customers to discharge their batteries and use battery-stored energy rather than grid power to avoid peak demand spikes.

Time of use rates: Time of use rates are calculated at a specific time of day when the utility charges a premium rate to reduce high demand on the grid. Energy storage offsets utility rates by reducing grid power usage during peak hours and shifting usage from peak to non-peak hours.

Large-scale battery banks have both sufficient available power and energy storage to cover and “smooth out” consumption demands and protect utility customers from unfavorable rate structures.

How performance factors into the equation

Beyond initial utility savings, the performance profile of both the batteries and all-in-one solutions matters when it comes to maximizing the performance and economic return associated with a commercial energy storage system. As we’ve discussed in earlier posts, pay close attention to warrantied cycles (battery expected life), max charge/discharge or the battery’s available power, as well as usable capacity and efficiency.

Just as PV array size decisions are important for generating the optimal amount of power and ROI for a project, so too must storage solutions be customized to align with the specific power or energy demands of a commercial or industrial customer.

Consider how storage addresses peak demand charges.  These charges are based upon power consumption, so it is important to have a skilled professional build a profile of power demands exceeding the line in which the demand charge is met.

For instance, a professional might determine that the highest 15 minute interval rate that a warehouse uses is 100 kW. The installer can then reduce this rate with the strategic addition of solar and storage to help smooth out the load profile that the utility sees and thus reduce costly demand charges.

There are high voltage energy storage systems available that allow you to customize exactly the voltage, peak power, capacity and system size you need for every building, location and use-case in your portfolio. This approach can provide significant cost savings over out-of-the box solutions, requiring you to buy only the storage you need and allowing you to add on additional storage incrementally down the road.

This post and the entire 12 Days of Storage was contributed by SimpliPhi.

— Solar Builder magazine

Here’s New York’s plan for $250 million in energy storage funding

energy storage funding

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) announced a new commitment to invest $250 million between now and 2025 to accelerate the flexibility of the electric grid to give New Yorkers greater access to renewable energy resources such as wind and solar power. The multi-pronged, collaborative investment will address key market and financing barriers, accelerate implementation of up to 150 megawatts (MW) of grid flexibility projects and decrease market risk.

The project supports the goals in the New York Energy Storage Roadmap, which identifies recommended actions toward realizing the state’s nation-leading 1,500 MW storage deployment target by 2025—the equivalent electricity demand of one-fifth of all New York homes.

“Building more flexibility into the electricity grid will expedite the transition to a renewable energy future and play a critical role in achieving the state’s energy goals,” said NYPA Chairman John R. Koelmel. “Strong partnerships with customers and the private sector will be essential if we are to both demonstrate the opportunities and rapidly address the challenges presented by deployment of storage and demand flexibility on New York’s electric grid.”

Check out our 12 Days of Storage articles

Learn and test demos

NYPA will invite New York State’s distribution utilities and 51 municipal and rural cooperative electric systems to conduct collaborative test-and-learn demonstrations to determine the capabilities and value of various storage and demand management tools that could be used to provide services to the grid. With its open sourced innovation, NYPA will also be looking for partners in the public and private sector as it identifies initial locations for the first tranche of projects.

“Our primary intent is to use the experiences gained from test-and-learn projects to provide value to customers,” said Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA’s president and CEO. “At the same time, we can demonstrate to regulators and market participants the ways in which these flexibility tools increase the efficiency of the grid, and inform the process of creating mechanisms that enable private markets to invest in them at scale.”

Many of the services will focus on energy storage and demand management. Energy storage is essential in transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy to ensure that renewable energy resources are available at the right times—when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing—and at the right location that provides the most benefits to the electric grid.

Fund allocation

The initial phase of funding, approved today by the NYPA Board of Trustees, directs up to 30 percent of the $250 million to be allocated into three primary new demonstration programs through the end of 2020, including:

Energy Infrastructure: Identify and demonstrate opportunities to deploy storage and demand flexibility to defer, reduce or avoid investments caused by locational congestion or retiring plants and infrastructure.

Distributed Energy Resources: Optimize the role that behind-the-meter customer energy resources and buildings can play in supporting a clean, renewable energy system, and simplify the role that these resources play in the New York energy markets.

Renewable Generation: Pair storage and renewables for longer intermittency durations, build flexibility into the generation and transmission system to balance different geographical locations of renewables and explore longer duration demand flexibility.

The balance of the $250 million will be directed into accelerating storage and demand flexibility, with specific projects dependent on emerging market needs, collaborative project proposals with third-parties and customer preferences.

The flexibility initiative further builds on NYPA’s green energy commitments, adding to a $250 million seven-year program roll-out, Evolve NY, announced in May to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles by expanding fast-charging infrastructure on major traffic corridors and in urban hubs throughout the state. The combined investments will help the state lead the fight against climate change by significantly reducing greenhouse gases and cleaning the air for all New Yorkers.

— Solar Builder magazine