Learned Behavior: Advances in machine-learning lead the way to true solar + storage profitability

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In the compelling short story “Lifecycle of Software Objects,” author Ted Chiang explores a world in which artificial intelligence (AI) is reared and cared for just as you would a child. He did this because he sees the commitment life-long learning and development as the only true way for AI to ever achieve conscious intelligence. Point being, there is only so much pre-programming can accomplish.

Advanced energy control software companies would agree with this philosophy. It’s not exactly full consciousness, but today’s energy storage controllers are using various machine-learning and artificial intelligence to make savvy decisions that balance priorities of asset generation, optimal storage use, tariff schedules, demand charges and miscellaneous grid responsibilities. For C&I solar + storage projects, these abilities aren’t a bonus, they are crucial to maximize the assets and hit key production and revenue goals. The main questions at hand here:

  • What’s the electrical tariff for the site, and how should the system maximize the cost avoidance or value captured under it over time?
  • What charge and discharge schedule for the asset makes sense for that moment in time?

Misjudging the answers to these questions is likely to be a $100,000 mistake or more in some cases.

Thinking fast and slow

Pason Power provides one of the top advanced energy storage control solutions on the market, and we asked Bryce Evans, head of customer and partner success, to give us a peek into how these systems think.

Pason Power’s autonomous control systems and machine-learning capabilities emerge first from two broad buckets of information processing — micro and macro — which can have conflicting agendas (all humans begin to nod).

Micro adaptations. Every second, the Pason system gathers data from a variety of real-time data sources — from the energy storage system’s power conversion systems (PCS), battery management system (BMS), meters at the site (for the current building load, on-site solar generation and sub-metering on machinery or sub-circuits), and other instrumentation data such as temperature sensors. It’s also consulting weather reports, cloud characteristics and maybe a weather station or irradiance sensor at the site (if applicable).

All of that is driven into a patent-pending forecasting engine, which produces two forecasts: the expected site demand over the next 24 hours and the expected output of the solar array. This is where the learned responses prove their worth as the system considers the forecasts within the context of various site constraints.

“Our system responds in real time to the instantaneous changes in site load among other factors and generates new forecasts every 15 minutes based on all of the information gathered,” Evans says.

Macro adaptations. Over a longer period of time (days, months and years), a model will need to be adjusted within the broader context of the evolving load of the site, potential changes to rate tariffs and new revenue stream opportunities. Pason handles the evolving energy usage patterns at the site by periodically deploying new AI models that are retrained to include the most recent gathered information from the site’s measurements. Most changes to rate tariffs are usually handled automatically by the AI control system, which has the capability to optimize battery operations for thousands of rate tariffs. Pason also deploys updates to the machine-learning model to explore other ways to best produce savings for this site given what’s been learned since the system was commissioned. This process is enabling continuous AI learning.

A primary application of C&I solar + storage is demand charge reduction. The most basic way to do this is to look at historical electrical consumption of the facility and configure the system with a fixed threshold. If site demand ever goes above X, the asset discharges. That requires no machine-learning sophistication.

But, what if you have a really hot month (an increasing likelihood in the age of global warming)? A fixed threshold approach might completely miss the peak demand charge.

“You might start to discharge the asset too soon because the threshold could be too low for this particular day,” Evans explains. “The HVAC system is going to run longer than usual because of the anomalous month, and because of how demand charges are billed, if you let one through the whole billing period is sunk from a cost avoidance standpoint.”

An adaptive system can assess such situations with more nuance.

“We see HVAC loads as a sweet spot for our system, which are highly correlated with weather,” Evans says. “We’ll be able to anticipate that increased need and be less aggressive in our demand charge reduction, counter intuitively, because raising the threshold makes sure we effectively shave the peak. If you discharge too soon, you miss part of the peak, and there’s no changing that now for the rest of the billing period.”

Consider the needs of others

Then there are the batteries themselves. Batteries need to be operated within specific use parameters to meet performance expectations and maintain their warranties, which is hugely important to buyers.

“We see a strong pull from the market for 10-year warranties for the batteries because customers want the modules warrantied in line with the system,” Evans says.

Demand for higher density battery modules at lower price points has driven rapid innovation and resulted in a market full of newer battery modules that don’t have enough testing behind them to know for certain how they will perform. To protect against this risk, battery warranties are getting more restrictive when specifying use conditions like state of charge, depth of discharge and temperature range.

It would be impossible for a non-adaptive control system to account for the unknowns of the battery’s performance while still adjusting the usage to not void the warranty.

“Our system has to keep all of that in mind while operating the asset and co-optimize all of these constraints,” Evans says.

Seeing the bigger picture

Intelligent energy storage control systems also mean more value stacking opportunities for system owners. Example: A system is designed with demand charge reduction as the primary application. Late in the monthly billing period, the system might reasonably surmise the highest peak for that month was already hit. Maybe instead of peak shaving that day, an intelligent system will perform PV self-consumption or TOU arbitrage instead.

Knowing a controller has the smarts to put every asset to optimal use, an asset owner might want to plan for it in system design by adding a little more storage than a system would need for just demand reduction.

Evans hints that Pason is preparing for that with a new application based on value stacking. The good news is, you don’t need to jump right in and buy those batteries now. The machine-learning of these systems will only improve over time as more data is compiled, and all of those smarts will be pushed back into the brains of your controller (software updates are included with the annual subscription fee).

Playing nice with others

Deploying all of this is becoming easier for novice, mid-market solar installers too. Consider Stem, another big name in machine-learning storage systems. Since 2012, Stem has captured data from its systems on a one-second basis to feed its predictive analytics, machine-learning and grid-edge computing AI. The company has largely functioned as its own project developer, becoming one of the top storage companies in California by combining its advanced AI Athena platform with the SGIP rebate to uncover big savings for customers.

Solar installers can now put all of this accumulated knowledge to use as Stem is now looking to partner with solar companies to deploy even more systems in the C&I mid-market through its Stem Partner Network.

“Through the Stem Partner Network, we deliver end-to-end partner support and services, such as training, project development advisory services, marketing and lead generation, deal support and access to a partner portal with educational resources,” Christy Martell says. “We worked with a few developers to help them understand how to design storage into their projects and ultimately bring more value to their end customers.”

Stem partners with the strongest names among solar providers across the United States to unlock new value from solar projects for their customers, backed by performance guarantees. To that end it has partnered with Energy Toolbase to provide developers an efficient path to design systems and map out projected savings.

Typically, Stem will work with the developer to suggest a combination of value streams, and this is especially valuable going forward as the market grows for complex grid services or utility programs such as demand response.

“We have seen an uptick in deal size going into 1 to 4 MW, and that’s continuing to grow,” says Than Tran, VP of global demand generation and marketing for Stem. “As we grow larger, we want to bring in other strategic providers to help us build a comprehensive solution to address all C&I customers.”

Pason Power recently partnered with Chint Power Systems (CPS), which integrates Pason Power’s software into its Energy Storage System as the exclusive platform for commercial and industrial (C&I) customers.

Smaller storage systems

Smaller storage systems leave less room for testing integrations in the field, which is why Pason Power partnered with CPS to pre-integrate their systems.

“CPS is bringing the entire solution to the commercial segment,” says Casey Miller, VP of products and business development for CPS America. “We are enabling solar installers to get in the storage game by offering their commercial building customers a turnkey storage solution with clear economic benefits and managed risk.”

This integrated energy storage solution fosters a simplified, single-source procurement process for customers rather than having to rely on multiple vendors. Hardware and software will arrive pre-built and pre-configured, making it easy for developers to install so customers can quickly begin seeing the benefits. Why this integration is important:

  1. The bankability of the firms involved is a huge factor in decision making when procuring storage components. Chint is a strong brand with a reputation for reliable products and excellent service, and Pason has been around for 40 years.
  2. The practical advantages. “By partnering with Chint, we can pre-integrate our control system into their product, do all of our testing in our facility and then sell a turnkey product that can be installed in half a day,” Evans says. This means decreased install costs, decreased commissioning costs, higher reliability and no misfires in the early billing periods that equate to missed savings opportunities.
  3. Because Pason’s modeling and energy management software were designed together, they use the same logic which ensures a truly integrated system. This enables users to pre-select the hardware which also improves accuracy when modeling the system and economics.

“Pason Power is doing the little things right to make the solution easy for customers,” Miller says “The net-net is our customers get the predicted economic benefits over the full life of the solution, not just year one or two.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Chint Power Systems is integrating Pason Power into its Energy Storage System for C&I solar installers

CPS America

Chint Power Systems (CPS) has chosen Pason Power’s software to be integrated into its Energy Storage System as the exclusive platform for commercial and industrial (C&I) customers.  This integrated energy storage solution fosters a simplified, single-source procurement process for customers rather than having to rely on multiple vendors. Casey Miller, Vice President of Products and Strategy at CPS says Pason Power’s adaptive software completes the turnkey offering from CPS.

“After evaluating a number of software platforms, we chose Pason Power because of its capable platform, its ability to maximize ROI in a changing energy environment, and most importantly the backing of a company with decades of experience in data management for the energy industry,” said Miller. “With our hardware and Pason Power’s software solution, we have been able to significantly reduce the complexity and risk of executing small commercial storage for our customers. We have what we believe to be the best small commercial solution for solar, and we now have energy storage solution that can help project developers grow their business.”

Also cool: hardware and software will arrive pre-built and pre-configured, making it easy for developers to install so customers can quickly begin seeing the benefits. By pre-integrating with CPS’s energy storage solution, Pason Power’s platform can accurately model anticipated operating parameters, yielding more precise results.

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“As C&I energy and sustainability managers seek greater control over their energy use, interest in energy storage is skyrocketing,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, research analyst at Navigant Research. “To unlock the next level of value in the C&I storage market, stakeholders are exploiting cumulative advances in software and analytics to enable the bundling of grid applications to stack up multiple value streams. Balancing this complexity will require sophisticated analytical and system control capabilities to ensure an energy storage system provides maximum value and maintains peak performance for as long as possible.”

“The integration of the Pason Power platform with the CPS systems gives customers the ability to confidently size, procure, and install intelligent energy storage systems, while also providing faster delivery times and cost certainty,” said Enrico Ladendorf, Managing Director of Pason Power. “The combined system enabled by our software platform can help solar installers and project developers grow their businesses by delivering more accurate estimates on project financial performance such as IRR, Payback Period, and NPV.”

More on Pason Power

Pason Power’s intelligent software platform is designed to unlock value from each phase of the energy storage project lifecycle. It delivers predictable and reliable results that give confidence to developers, financiers, utilities, and operators when deploying and managing energy storage assets

“The platform offers a clear view into every step of the procurement and deployment process, including visibility into the real-time performance and aggregated savings of the system,” Ladendorf says. “This significantly lowers project risks by optimizing the energy storage system to a customer’s unique and specific power needs.”

The CPS Energy Storage Systems are designed for demand charge reduction, time of use shifting, PV self-consumption, and back-up power applications. Available in 30kW/65kWh or 60kW/ 130kWh solutions, these turnkey UL 9540 certified systems are available and ready to meet customer demand today.

— Solar Builder magazine

Eguana Technologies’ commercial energy storage system can now perform value stacking in real-time

Intelligent Energy Management System

Eguana Technologies upgraded its Elevate energy storage system for C&I applications with Pason Power’s Intelligent Energy Management System (iEMS), which will combine machine-learning with real-time and historical data to optimize the the system’s value streams.

“With the integration of Pason Power’s Intelligent EMS into our Elevate products we now offer our Commercial and Industrial (C&I) storage customers a powerful way to perform financial modeling based on actual equipment performance,” said Brent Harris, CTO of Eguana Technologies Inc. “The computational complexity required to gain meaningful insight into the storage system is far beyond what humans can do, and we are very excited to bring machine learning from Pason Power to our customers.”

What can EMS do?

Pason Power’s Intelligent EMS incorporates Internet of Things sensor data, weather metrics, energy market changes, load and generation data, and related information streams and factors these into its optimization algorithms to make actionable recommendations and predictions about when and how to leverage energy storage. Anyone evaluating Eguana storage systems can easily model their storage needs with Pason Power’s Storage Architect, a tool that allows customers to deploy solar and energy storage with confidence. Storage Architect significantly reduces the risks to asset owners, installers, and financiers of over- or under-building storage systems because it leverages the same data backbone used by production systems.

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“Machine learning is ideally suited to perform energy storage value stacking in real-time, and with this integration, Eguana customers can go from pencil-out to power-on very quickly,” said Enrico Ladendorf, managing director of Pason Power. “Intelligent EMS users reap the benefits of complex computational analysis without the need for a data scientist. Storage developers and solar installers can be confident that storage system data modeled by our products accurately represent how their Eguana systems will perform in the field.”

The Elevate energy storage system can be deployed in small commercial and industrial applications. A standard unit contains 15 kW of power and up to 39 kWh of storage within the size of a standard shipping pallet, and multiple units can operate in parallel, providing design flexibility for a range of project sizes. The factory integrated power control system from Pason Power and lithium-ion batteries from LG Chem provide reliability through automated protection and recovery as well as long-term performance with minimal service requirements.

— Solar Builder magazine

This Pason Power tool simplifies energy storage economic modeling

Pason Power Storage system

A new tool enabling the solar and energy storage industries to deploy with confidence is now available via Pason Power. The Storage Architect modeling software for energy storage project development puts economics first by forecasting a project’s economic value with the same optimization algorithm that runs autonomous energy storage systems in the field. With Storage Architect, Pason Power believes it can significantly reduce the risks to asset owners, installers, and financiers of overbuilding or underbuilding systems.

“With our platform, you don’t have to be a data scientist to get your solar plus storage projects from pencil-out to power-on,” said Bryce Evans, Success Manager at Pason Power. “Storage Architect gives energy project developers a precise projection of how much storage a site will require, what the payback period will be, and what the net present value of the system is. This enables energy project developers to zero-in on opportunities and deploy storage and solar plus storage projects with confidence.”

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Meet Pason Power

Pason Power Storage

Storage Architect is powered by an advanced machine learning platform built by a company with a legacy of over 24 years in the management and security of energy data. Pason Power is backed by its parent company, Pason Systems Inc., and leverages robust, industrial technology which has provided data acquisition and management for over 600,000 drilling sites worldwide, representing over $1 trillion in drilling operations globally. Pason enjoys one of the strongest balance sheets in the industry and has a 40-year track record of adding value through energy data.

“A major hurdle solar and storage installers face in project and proposal design is the inconsistency between the benefits that estimation tools predict customers will see from their renewable energy and storage projects, and how the completed systems actually perform in the field,” said Brent Harris, CTO of energy storage manufacturer Eguana Technologies Inc. “Pason Power offers a platform for storage estimation and operations that is powered by the same underlying analytics engine, which enables installers to present the cost and performance of several installation options to their customers with confidence.”

Storage Architect puts the power of advanced battery optimization and control algorithms into the hands of system integrators, project developers, as well as energy sustainability and efficiency consultants; enabling users to identify the economic viability of energy storage systems to perform demand charge management in concert with renewable energy generation. Upon system commissioning, the project configuration developed in Storage Architect is transferred to the advanced energy storage system providing a seamless transition from pencil-out to power-on.

— Solar Builder magazine