Shave and a rate cut: How solar + storage solutions are shaving peaks, saving big bucks

shave and a rate cut

Shaving the peaks off commercial and industrial (C&I) electric bills is the top revenue stream for energy storage systems, and given the trend in increasing utility charges for time-of-use consumption, peak shaving can pay for a system in as little as three years, system providers say.

Just how high the peaks need to be in order to justify the investment in an energy storage system varies with geography and jurisdiction, but in general, demand charges of $15 to $20/kW or more are clear candidates, says John Merritt, the director of applications engineering at Ideal Power.

“The vast majority of converters we sold for storage systems in the past year went to California, with eight out of 10 used in applications for peak shaving,” Merritt says. “With the California incentives and the federal tax break, C&I customers can get a payback in as little as three years and in other cases in four or five years.”

A $15/kW demand charge threshold for economic feasibility also necessitates a 50-kW monthly usage level within the peak charge range, suggests Ellen Howe, VP of marketing and corporate development at JLM Energy, based in Rocklin, Calif. Her colleague, Nate Newsom, VP of enterprise sales, says, “Commercial entities that spend 3 percent or more of their monthly budget on electricity and/or experience 40 percent to 50 percent [higher than normal] demand charges typically are a good fit for energy storage.”

The C&I market is virtually untapped

Analyzing the C&I market for energy storage usefulness, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., started with the assumption that demand charges of $15/kW or higher typically result in favorable economics for energy storage projects. Then, counting rooftops, NREL determined that “Of the nearly 18 million commercial utility customers in the United States, almost 5 million of them are exposed to, or could be exposed to demand charges of $15/kW or higher that would indicate cost-effective opportunities for energy storage.”

While not every potential C&I customer will bite the bullet for a stand-alone energy storage system, aggregation through community solar projects, or virtual power plants (VPP), is increasingly an opportunity.

Tesla is among the storage providers that is now active in community solar, with a high-profile October rollout of its commercial-scale Powerpack system at Puerto Rico’s Hospital del Niño, a children’s hospital in San Juan. As of April, Tesla had provided commercial Powerpacks and residential-scale Powerwalls to over 600 locations, with the count rising daily. The company has been quoted stating a goal of providing up to 40 percent of the island’s power storage needs via community solar system build-outs.

One new provider of VPP services is solar converter maker SolarEdge Technologies, which in May announced a solution for grid services and virtual power plants, thanks to its recent acquisition of Gamatronic Electronic Industries. The solution includes grid services of aggregative control and data reporting that enable the pooling of PV and storage in the cloud for the creation of VPPs.

demand charge example

Fig 1. Example of the steep savings achieved just through shaving peak demand.

Storage + trackers (plus pumps, plus…)

A relatively new storage configuration for C&I customers is the use of storage with solar trackers, like the 1.1-MW project at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. This project will use the NEXTracker NX Flow integrated solar-plus-storage system, in combination with an Ideal Power SunDial Plus converter and a Vanadium flow battery. The project is NEXTracker’s first large-scale installation of the NX Flow solution.

Another budding C&I application for storage is with water authorities, which can typically generate energy from solar for less than it costs to pump water uphill for a discharge to a generator turbine. The San Diego County Water Authority, for example, won $1 million from the California Public Utilities Commission to install intelligent energy storage that will tap the energy from solar panels already installed at the SDWA’s Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant.

The SDWA energy storage project, being operated by Santa Clara-based ENGIE, is expected to save an estimated $100,000 per year by storing low-cost power for later use during high-demand periods for peak shaving. The storage will help the plant cope with its highest energy use period, during peak afternoon hours. ENGIE acquired majority control of energy storage management software leader Green Charge in 2016.

RELATED: Solar + Sharing: Connect groups of homeowners, renters via one solar + storage network 

The backbone of storage: data crunching

It is tricky enough to coordinate a community solar or VPP operation, providing power on demand to participants and storing the rest until the utility calls for help. But knowing precisely what times, and advising customers as to when it is most optimal to use grid energy, or substitute with storage, is another matter, thanks to U.S. utility rate mayhem.

NREL notes that “There are almost 3,500 electricity providers in the United States, and each one has their own set of tariff sheets, rate structures and pathways for compensating non-utility-owned energy generation.” Add a dynamic dimension of rate evolution arising from rate cases, and it becomes a bit difficult to keep up with when it is most economic to use how much power.

Here the data crunchers enter the fray. Stem, for example, recently launched its Athena analysis product, which uses artificial intelligence to learn, predict and optimize energy in real time. Athena collects data at a rate of 400 megabytes per minute to continually fine-tune its algorithms. The system also has learned from operating systems for over 5 million hours, from processing nearly 200 million data intervals and from running over 35 million project simulations. As a result, the system decides and tells the battery when to store and to discharge power, responds to demand response opportunities and methodically shaves peak utility rates.

Stem has working relationships with eight utilities thus far and expects that number to grow significantly as the company helps shave peak demand, which is costly on both sides of the transformer. Stem has been dispatching batteries into California’s wholesale energy markets where it responded to more than 600 calls from state grid operator CAISO last year, according to the company.

On top of new legislative challenges, the industry has faced high and growing customer acquisition costs over the past few years. According to GTM Research, customer acquisition costs on average now represent a disproportionate 17 percent of the total system cost. This is where a new service from Urjanet, a global leader in utility data aggregation, comes into play. Its new Utility Data for Solar, a data-as-a-service solution that provides on-demand access to residential and commercial energy usage, cost and location data from more than 900 electric utilities in over 15 countries. Urjanet Utility Data for Solar enables a more cost-effective, customized approach to selling solar systems that allows vendors to effectively focus on the needs, requirements and situation of each residential or commercial buyer.

map of demand charges

Fig 2. Here’s where the harshest demand charges are across the U.S., courtesy of NREL.

Storage as a service emerges

When solar leasing became popular, the common knowledge about actual savings from such arrangements was about 15 percent of a residential utility bill, if that. With C&I customers, the savings opportunities are as high as the sky or at least whatever the utility bill looks like pre-storage.

JLM Energy is one of the latest energy storage solution providers that offers financing for energy storage customers through a $25 million project financing fund. The company uses a lease structure to achieve shared savings on a monthly basis for 20 years, with no upfront cost. JLM owns, maintains and guarantees system performance.

Stem has long been financing storage solutions, and now has a $500 million investment pool from which it can draw to finance a project, thanks to a host of private sector investors, including the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

Wall Street may not have climbed onto the PV wagon when the industry began to mature, but the storage peak-shaving proposition apparently seems as clear and understandable to such investors as the bottom line of the utility bill.

Charles W. Thurston is a freelance writer covering solar energy from Northern California.

— Solar Builder magazine

How JLM Energy financed, installed three commercial energy storage systems in southern California

JLM Energy Phazr MicroStorage

JLM Energy recently signed agreements to install energy storage systems for Modern Postcard in Carlsbad, Thermal-Vac Technology and Continuous Coating Corporation in Orange. Energy storage will enable these businesses to reduce commercial demand fees, resulting in millions of dollars saved.

  • Thermal-Vac Technology is a 33-year industry leader and premier brazing, heat-treating and metal finishing facility located in Southern California Edison utility territory. JLM will be installing a 750 kW/1500 kWh Gridz energy storage system.
  • Modern Postcard is a 25-year industry leader in full-service direct marketing solutions and quality promotional printing for businesses of all types, located in San Diego Gas & Electric territory. JLM will be installing a 420 kW/840 kWh Gridz system.
  • Continuous Coating Corporation is the industry leader in electro galvanizing and located in Southern California Edison territory. Established in 1965, as the only electro-zinc line in the Western United States, JLM will install a 180 kW/360 kWh Gridz system for Continuous Coating.

Funding details

These projects are funded through a special $25 million project financing fund. This structure allows qualified customers to achieve guaranteed savings on a monthly basis for 20 years, with no money down. JLM will own, maintain and guarantee system performance. In these respective cases, each solution will generate millions of dollars in savings during the life of the system.

Nate Newsom, JLM Energy’s VP of Enterprise Sales, said, “Shared savings is a risk-free way to reduce burdensome utility bills. Commercial entities that spend three percent or more of their monthly budget on electricity and/or experience 40-50% demand charges typically are a good fit for energy storage.”

JLM Energy’s storage solutions operate on intelligent software called Measurz. It analyzes energy consumption trends and then develops recommendations that automatically optimize energy efficiency. Users can rely on stored energy during periods of peak energy use, resulting in lower bills.

The energy storage market is being driven by the declining cost of batteries, creating a huge benefit for consumers. JLM uses lithium iron phosphate batteries, a more structurally and thermally stable alternative than the more common lithium ion.

— Solar Builder magazine

Wholesale Solar to start distributing JLM Energy storage solutions

JLM Energy Phazr

JLM Energy has inked a distribution deal with Wholesale Solar. With this strategic partnership, JLM Energy will expand the availability of its Phazr DC coupled battery systems, Energizr 100 back-up for residential and Gridz AC coupled commercial solutions.

Developed by JLM Energy, Phazr is an innovative distributed energy storage platform. Phazr’s plug-and-play design dramatically simplifies installation and lowers engineering and ongoing maintenance costs over traditional energy storage systems; helping to lower the overall cost for adding energy storage to solar systems and increasing system value. Phazrs are controlled by JLM’s Measurz software, which directs the batteries to solve for grid applications such as Time of Use arbitrage, demand shaving, solar self-consumption, and other applications to provide significant value to solar owners and investors.

“With utilities changing the value of energy and shifting higher cost electricity to periods when the sun isn’t shining, adding energy storage to solar systems is becoming increasingly important,” said Erin Clark, JLM COO. “We’re extremely pleased to have Wholesale Solar as a distribution partner to enable our installer network easy access to our products as part of a one-stop-shop for all their solar component requirements.”

Wholesale Solar provides solar distribution services to a nationwide network of commercial and residential installers. Wholesale Solar also designs and sells backup systems with and without photovoltaics, and designs and sells industrial remote power systems.

“JLM has highly efficient and cost-effective solutions that make incorporating energy storage with solar simple and approachable,” said Allie Coleman, CEO of Wholesale Solar. “Phazr is driving costs down and spurring the rapid adoption of energy storage in key markets.”

 

— Solar Builder magazine

Battery chemistry matters: What to know before installing solar + storage systems

battery

The days when a residential or commercial solar installer did not need to know the difference in performance between lead-acid and lithium-based batteries are over. Battery storage has emerged as an unavoidable complement to solar, slashing peak charges and outwitting utility time-of-use charge games, not to mention saving microgrids from outages.

Recommending battery chemistry to a customer is no less complicated than recommending a particular solar array solution. Depending on customer goals of low initial cost, ease of maintenance, frequency of use, depth of discharge, source of recharge energy, longevity and warranty, however, choices narrow down rapidly. Lowest life-cycle cost, or total cost of ownership calculations, performed for site-specific use, also help customers understand the variations in side-by-side options.

“There are some applications where lead-acid still presents the lowest cost of ownership, so if you are just doing peak shaving or off-grid backup, you can use lead-acid as long as your usage is tightly controlled and meets the requirements of a lead-acid system,” says Jason Zerbe, the systems marketing manager at Enersys. “In other cases the most important function of the battery is that it has 100 percent up-time. There, lithium starts to make sense because it can do more in a partial state of charge and because it is not necessary to fully recharge the battery periodically without affecting the lifetime of the battery, unlike with lead-acid.”

Historic leader: Lead-acid

Lead-acid battery solutions are far from antiquated, still capturing over a third of the global battery market. While it is true that lead-acid batteries are heavier than alternatives, charge more slowly and generate hydrogen gas as they age, lead-acid still provides a solid value at a low cost, and can disprove criticism of poor longevity in some configurations.

Deep-cycle lead-acid batteries can last as long as a solar array, with designed use. Trojan Battery recently branded a line of batteries specifically for the solar industry to prove this point. At the high end, Trojan’s Industrial grade lead-acid batteries can last up to 17 years, delivering 3,600 charge/discharge cycles at an average 50 percent depth of discharge (DOD). In comparison, Trojan’s solar absorbed glass mat (AGM) lead-acid battery lasts eight years, delivering 1,700 cycles at a 50 percent DOD.

Top 5 battery installation issues for solar installers

You need to consider how much your customer wants to participate in the storage process. Less-expensive flooded lead-acid batteries — costing from $100/kWh to $200/kWh — provide between 600 and 1,200 cycles and require water refilling maintenance, but AGM or gel chemistry lead-acid batteries, which are 20 percent more expensive, can provide about 1,700 cycles without requiring the extra maintenance, according to Erguen Oezcan, senior sales director for renewable energy at Trojan Battery.

The safety and environmental story of lead-acid is tricky. On the one hand, flooded batteries carry the extra costs of a venting system needed to draw off the hydrogen gas that is formed over time as well as a containment basin to guard against spills (a code requirement). But, on the plus-side, lead-acid batteries are 99 percent recycled — one of the most recycled products in industry today. Lithium batteries are not yet recyclable.

There are some relatively new additions to basic lead-acid chemistry to consider. Carbon-enhanced anodes limit the formation of sulfate deposits, which hamper performance and decrease battery life. Other innovations include the use of metallic agents to enhance the electrolyte, layered insulating wrappings for AGM mesh and so-called moss shields that limit internal shorts.

JLM Energy

JLM Energy recently installed more than a dozen residential Phazr MicroStorage plus solar projects in locations throughout the greater Phoenix metropolitan area to shave peaks when demand spikes.

Up and comer: Lithium-iron phosphate

When lithium-ion batteries came into common use, they seemed destined to capture the bulk of the battery market. But high prices — which thankfully are falling rapidly — combined with fire concerns have encouraged manufacturers to experiment with a variety of other lithium chemistry variations. One that’s emerging is lithium-iron phosphate (LiFePO4 or LFP), which exhibits fast discharge, long life and greater operating safety than other variations.

LFP is a nontoxic, thermally stable material and is much safer — from fires and explosions — than the standard cobalt-containing lithium-ion (LiCoO2) chemistry. The difference in chemistry also makes the LFP less expensive than the lithium-ion battery.

The cost of LFP batteries is down to about $400 per MWh and should drop further as more large-scale production comes onto the market. “LFP battery costs have dropped 25 to 30 percent over the last two years,” says Catherine Von Burg, the CEO of SimpliPhi.

Still, commercial and industrial customers are seeing a return on investment for LFP in four years or less, when targeting problems like peak shaving, says Von Burg. Her company routinely installs LFP battery banks on C&I rooftops.

A host of local regulations have arisen to mitigate the fire risk from lithium-ion, which adds cost to both residential and commercial applications installed indoors. This is where LFP’s chemistry can make a difference — at the point of installation completion.

LFP performance can beat lithium-ion, with LFP batteries generally providing about 2,000 charge/discharge cycles, compared to about 1,000 for lithium-ion batteries, according to one industry source.

Because of its safety, rooftop battery solution provider JLM Energy also uses LFP in its Phazr battery system, which is mounted underneath each panel in a rooftop solar array.

One forward-looking advantage of using LFP battery systems is the growth of community solar, microgrids and other aggregated forms of distributed energy resources. As utilities become more capable of interacting with these DER systems, more smart, fast battery systems will be called upon to support the grid, if not also enabling some form of private-sector energy arbitrage, suggests Von Burg.

New standards

Comparing battery lifetime has become more standardized with the advent of the International Electrotechnical Commission’s (IEC) standard 61427 test, which provides performance criteria that all batteries for PV applications should be measured against. It offers a common, internationally accepted platform to compare and contrast batteries from different manufacturers.

Warranties are also widely variable, so trust in solid companies unless a reliable third-party warranty policy has been issued on the product. “There is a trend among battery companies with a limited reputation to give unbelievable warranty terms. Then the owner has to prove a lot of things to collect on the warranty, which is really tricky and in-transparent,” Oezcan says.

Battery showcase: Four solar + storage solutions for your next project

To aid in the information battle, independent energy certification body DNV GL just developed Battery XT, the first testing-based verification of battery lifetime for lithium-ion batteries. The independent verification tool compiles battery lifecycle data and predicts battery degradation under different conditions and duty cycles, providing renewables stakeholders with an objective way to compare the value and reliability of types and brands of energy storage technology as well as provide consulting on battery size and chemistry selection.

“As the storage market continues to expand, the ability to manage risk at the point of purchase is becoming increasingly important,” says Rich Barnes, executive vice president and regional manager for DNV GL Energy in North America. “Battery XT will empower stakeholders to make better purchasing decisions based on objective, third-party testing.”

This section was featured in the January/February 2018 issue of Solar Builder magazine. Sign up for a FREE subscription here.

 

— Solar Builder magazine

How JLM Energy’s Phazr microstorage system helps combat California utility rates

JLM Energy Phazr

California’s new utility rates undercut the value of rooftop solar. To help customers combat this dynamic, JLM Energy has deployed more than 2,000 Phazr MicroStorage units and is successfully managing residential time-of-use charges for customers in all three major utility territories from San Diego to the Oregon border. Time-of-use rates are designed to charge a premium for electricity during late afternoon and evening when the utility grid is stressed by heavy use.

Phazr is a distributed energy storage platform that uses the unique concept of ‘microstorage.’ It pairs a single solar panel with a battery pack in a one-on-one ratio. Its plug-and-play design eliminates the need for skilled installation, driving costs down. Phazr charges directly from the renewable energy generated by the solar panel so it completely qualifies for the Federal Investment Tax Credit.

Erin Clark, JLM Energy’s chief operating officer said, “By storing solar energy in batteries until the evening when it is needed most, homeowners can save money and create efficiencies. The combination of solar plus storage future-proofs the customers’ investment as tariff rates are changed by the utilities.”

New guide shows strategies for pairing community solar with storage

William Cotter of SunStor, a Solar installer in PG&E territory said, “JLM’s Phazr gives us a competitive advantage. It is a streamlined, adaptable and smart solution that provides solar customers with peace of mind, enhanced efficiency and guaranteed savings on their utility bill.”

Phazr uses JLM Energy’s patent-pending Symmetric DC Regulation, the only technology available that enables a solar panel to charge a battery and send power into the home simultaneously. Excess energy from the solar panel is stored in Phazr for use later in the day to achieve time-of-use shifting, or solar self-supply in the evening. Because Phazr only charges from solar, it qualifies for the 30 percent federal investment tax credit.

By taking this module-level approach, JLM’s Phazr is advancing DC coupled storage applications and spurring widespread adoption of storage. Phazr maximizes solar generation to provide the most optimized solution, ensuring the customer achieves the highest possible savings and a rapid return on investment.

— Solar Builder magazine