Puerto Rico recovery: This solar + storage microgrid helps power off-grid school hurt by hurricane

A solar + battery storage microgrid at S.U. Matrullas, a K through 9 school that educates over 150 students in the remote town of Orocovis, Puerto Rico was commissioned via collaboration with Pura Energía and energy storage provider sonnen. This project serves as a model for the resiliency created by solar + storage technologies, as it represents a fully off-grid site deep in the mountains of Puerto Rico.

sonnen solar storage puerto rico

The school has been completely off-grid since Hurricane Maria and is not expected to have power for many months to come. sonnen has donated two smart energy storage systems, an eco 8 (4kW / 8kWh) and eco 14 (8kW / 14kWh), to be paired with a 15-kW rooftop solar system provided by Pura Energía. The microgrid will provide enough energy to keep the school open, enabling the facility to use clean and renewable energy to keep classes going instead of relying on a noisy, gas fueled generator. During sonnen’s most recent visit to the site in February, students were using the sonnen system to charge their laptops for an upcoming technology lesson.

Orocovis is known for its breathtaking beauty and is one of the highest peaks in Puerto Rico, with the ocean visible on both the north and south shores of the island. However, the remote area is difficult to reach due to road and bridge wash-outs along the single-lane road that winds throughout the mountains. With the installation of the microgrid, S.U. Matrullas currently does not plan to reconnect with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), even once power is restored to the area. Further, the school will soon be off-water, as Por Los Nuestros – an organization with ties to local TV star Jay Fonseca as well as Manuel Cidre and others in the private sector – has helped facilitate recovery efforts and plans to donate a water collection and filtration system to bring the school to 100% sustainability.

Case study: Prepping solar tracker systems in advance of a hurricane

S.U. Matrullas is the site of the ninth and tenth microgrid systems that sonnen and Pura Energía have installed on the island since Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017. Other microgrids have included community and relief centers, washing machines and laundromats, food distribution centers and a school for behaviorally challenged children in Aguadilla. All efforts and technology were donated by sonnen and Pura Energía via the del Sol Foundation for Energy Security, thus far exceeding $350,000.

“We have witnessed first-hand not only a collaborative humanitarian effort that has aided critical recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, but one that has fostered forward-thinking strategies leveraging an integrated renewable energy capable of providing power to a large group of people,” said Adam Gentner, sonnen’s Director of Business Development, Latin American Expansion. “These microgrids effectively form the blueprint for more than just recovery, but for preparation for islands and regions around the world that are susceptible to natural disasters and power outages. As sonnen continues its global expansion, we will maintain our focus on bringing clean and affordable energy to all.”

— Solar Builder magazine

New York’s Sunrise Solar Solutions starts to install sonnenBatterie with solar systems


Sunrise Solar Solutions LLC, the largest locally owned and operated solar installation company in New York’s Westchester County and the Hudson Valley, unveiled the  sonnenBatterie battery back-up solar power system at last weekend’s Fall Westchester Home Show in White Plains, N.Y. To ensure power reliability and cost efficiency — the battery features a unique power detection system that will sense outages in real-time and will automatically switch over to battery power.

The sonnenBatterie is available as a separate purchase. However, Sunrise has also created a more cost-efficient option with its special value-added offer that combines a complete solar system installation-and-battery package – including a 30 percent federal tax credit.

According to reports, the majority of home and business owners experience anxiety related to losing power, especially as it affects their ability to perform daily household and business tasks. Many say that portable generators are not reliable enough to alleviate their worries as they often break down, and require gasoline to run. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, studies found that 30-50% of people who survived suffered from PTSD. After Hurricane Sandy, more than 20% of residents reported PTSD, 33% reported depression and 46% reported anxiety, according to Fortune Magazine.

The sonnenBatterie is a 24/7 home energy storage solution that uses intelligent software to manage the energy needs of your home, every minute of every day, season after season. Practically speaking, this means that you’re not only covered throughout the day, but then able to use your solar power at night too. And should a power outage occur, sonnenBatterie has the capacity to keep you humming along even during extended grid failures. The program is user-friendly and even features a downloadable sonnenApp where you can check your energy usage and production anytime and from anywhere. You can, therefore, monitor, analyze and take control from your smartphone or tablet as much or as little as you like.

Primer for buying, installing residential solar+storage systems

Says Sunrise president and CEO Douglas Hertz: “We have customers that have been asking and asking for the power assurance of a battery, and here we are! We’re really excited to be able to offer this now, and especially with such great savings included with the federal tax credit.”

He added, “In addition to eliminating worries about getting caught in the dark or shivering in the cold, adding battery backup to solar installations is an important step to increasing grid resiliency and furthering the move towards clean energy.”

— Solar Builder magazine

RGS Energy now offering Sonnen battery storage options

RGS Energy

RGS Energy and Sonnen, Inc., say they are immediately offering U.S. manufactured battery storage options to U.S. residential solar customers.

“We believe battery storage provides great value for our residential solar customers,” said Chris Gorski, RGS Energy’s director of Special Projects. “We chose Sonnen because of the safety, stability and long lifecycle of their lithium-iron phosphate batteries, and the fact that they have more than 20,000 sonnenBatterie systems installed worldwide. Battery storage is at the forefront of the solar industry as customers are seeking solutions to minimize the impact of power outages and the high cost of time-of-use power rates charged by an increasing number of utilities.”

A sonnenBatterie system provides a variety of services to solar homeowners, including back-up power during utility outages and a reduction in expensive peak energy draws from the power grid. In 2016 alone, there were over 3,800 power outages in the U.S. The addition of a battery storage system allows solar systems to continue to function independently of the power grid, enabling solar homes to provide their own power day and night during an outage to keep key home appliances running, such as lights, refrigeration, security systems and sump pumps.

Primer for buying, installing residential solar+storage systems

“Energy storage is still in the early stages of adoption in the U.S., but smart systems, like the sonnenBatterie, are the key to creating a foundation for clean and reliable energy for all,” said Blake Richetta, SVP of sonnen. “RGS is an ideal partner for sonnen as we both value high quality standards, have a history of proven performance and view our capability to innovate as the best options for customers.”

RGS Energy is a residential and small business commercial solar company since 1978 which has installed more than 25,000 solar power systems that is now a Sonnen certified installer and expects to begin deploying sonnenBatterie systems this fall.

— Solar Builder magazine

The Holistic Home: We peer into the future of home energy generation, usage


The mid-term growth of the U.S. residential solar-plus-storage market will be nothing short of phenomenal, as the seamless melding of generation, storage and energy management emerges in single, overarching systems.

Yes, we might finally be headed there — the 1950s vision of the all-electric GE kitchen of the future, but driven by a touchscreen-controlled solar+storage system.

“The vision of the de-carbonization of both the energy grid and transportation is toward integration and aggregation,” says Wes Kennedy, a senior field application engineer at Fronius, based in Portage, Ind. “The homes of the future will have a solar system, a stationary storage system, networked appliances and an EV in the garage. These will be connected to a monitoring and control system that is grouped together with the neighboring homes and businesses.”

The aggregator, whether a utility company or a third party, will be able to use the distributed resource to stabilize and optimize the grid. The system owner will of course be compensated.

“Ultimately, using the network approach to energy, optimized with a communication and control backbone, is what will allow higher and higher levels of renewable energy to support the grid,” Kennedy continues.

RELATED: Primer for buying, installing residential solar+storage systems 

Storage System Boom

According to market research firm IHS, the energy storage market is set to explode to an annual installation size of 6 GW in 2017 and to over 40 GW by 2022 — from an initial base of only 0.34 GW installed in 2012 and 2013.
A handful of leading storage companies have already developed such solutions, but the current market may yet seem like a hodgepodge of confusing options for consumers.

“We’ve seen significant growth in the past few years related to energy storage. We expect the market to continue to grow over the next year, at a steady pace, and reach an inflection point somewhere between 2018 and 2022,” says Catherine Von Burg, CEO of SimpliPhi Power.

The smooth integration of solar panels, inverter, battery and software will elevate the current standard of residential solar-plus-storage solutions and inspire rapid market expansion.

“The solar-plus-storage market has been poised for significant growth, and from our vantage point, working on the solar and the storage side, we’re seeing the convergence of the technology, the pricing and the market drivers all materializing now,” says Chip Means, the director of sales development at Pika Energy.

The remaining limiting factor, Means suggests, has been finding the correct technology architecture for making solar-plus-storage simpler to install and with a more efficient yield for the customer’s maximized ROI over the lifetime of the system. For Means, the future is a single inverter solution with a DC bus that the batteries and PV share.

“That’s exactly why Pika made the Energy Island system — that’s the concept behind our approach, and that’s been helping to accelerate the market both on the installer and consumer sides. It’s all accelerating now,” he says.
One formidable task when incorporating storage is finding solutions that are agnostic as far as battery chemistry is concerned. One such solution is Pika’s new B Link, unveiled at Intersolar NA in 2016.

“Until now, broad adoption of solar-plus-storage has awaited mature battery solutions with the right mix of features, form factor and pricing. With B Link, virtually any conventional battery technology ranging from lead acid to lithium ion can be used to make a highly efficient, compact smart battery ideal for load shifting, demand response and backup power applications,” says Pika Energy president Ben Polito.

Tesla’s new PowerWall 2.0 has nominally doubled the energy density of the prior version, with 7 kW of power capacity and 14 kWh of energy storage; the inverter is supplied by three companies thus far: SolarEdge, Fronius and SMA. However, now that the SolarCity acquisition is complete, Tesla may build its own inverter for the residential market.

After three months, this solar-plus-storage estate in New York, powered by SimpliPhi Power and Lotus Energy, exceeded production estimates by as much as 23 percent.

After three months,
this solar-plus-storage estate in New York, powered by SimpliPhi Power and Lotus Energy, exceeded production estimates by as much as 23 percent.

Changing Behavior

The potential is there to change how homeowners think about and interact with their energy usage. The Energizr 200 from JLM Energy is one such example — a holistic solution that works in harmony with solar power and the conventional grid to meet a predetermined budget set by the homeowner.

“A significant benefit of the system is that it provides customers the ability to manage self-supply and time-of-use scenarios by combining solar and storage,” said JLM Energy founder Farid Dibachi, at the unveiling of the new system at InterSolar North America in July. “This is especially important in states like California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada where net metering is going away and residential demand charges are being added.”

JLM’s patent-pending Symmetric DC Regulation technology permits energy flowing from solar panels to charge batteries directly or directs it to bypass the batteries for immediate home use, eliminating unnecessary cycling and enhancing battery life. The system is managed by the company’s cloud-based software platform, Measurz, which automatically determines when energy should be used or stored and acts behind the scenes to meet a monthly budget set by the homeowner. The software analyzes user habits to come up with efficiency recommendations.

The Measurz mobile app enables remote control of appliances including HVAC systems and pool pumps that often cost the most to run. Energizr 200 tracks real-time energy consumption to create efficiencies that can be monitored from home or remotely, which can lead to more informed energy use decisions and cost savings.

Pricing in Free Fall?

Apart from ease of use, lower cost inevitably drives adoption. In the past two years, SimpliPhi has reduced the costs of its products by 30 percent, and this will only continue as economies of scale and production ramp up.

“We have been working with innovators in lithium ferrous phosphate chemistry, and others, to continue improving our performance profiles on energy density, cycle life, efficiencies and operating temperature range, such that we will be able to offer greater density and increased power output in the future, per kilogram and per square foot,” Von Burg says. “Also, we are forecasting even greater longevity with our products.”

Some companies have achieved even deeper cost cuts. Between 2011 and 2016, sonnen reduced its prices by 80 percent, and expects prices to decrease in the future.

“New financial incentives will also continue to help make storage even more affordable, while we expect to see the global production of batteries and storage systems, in particular, increase,” says Jannik Schall, the U.S. director for sonnen.

Pika’s Energy Island Inverter.

Pika’s Energy Island Inverter.

EV to play critical role

The U.S. adoption of electric vehicles has been slow, but long term, urban planners expect the EV to become the dominant form of transportation, and thus a cornerstone of the residential solar-plus-storage system.

“Integrating EV as a DC load or storage asset is a huge opportunity when you have a bidirectional DC bus. The car becomes an energy asset when it’s part of the nanogrid,” Means says.

The EV will not only be an important asset in the garage, but also away from home. “The fact that electric vehicles have the potential to become a two-way mobile power source and aid in a catastrophic event or provide backup power anywhere the car is opens up a world of new possibilities for storage and utilizing clean renewable power on the go,” Von Burg says.

In short, residential solar-plus-storage presents opportunities for energy efficiency and control like nothing that has come before.

“We expect smart storage to be the heart of a digitalized, energy efficient smart home while also providing the connection to the outside world: the grid,” Schall says.

This feature appeared in our January/February Innovations Issue. Be sure you have your FREE subscription.

Charles W. Thurston is a freelance writer who covers solar energy from Northern California. Reach him at chazwt@gmail.com.

— Solar Builder magazine

SONNEN ramps up U.S. solar+storage sales efforts with new hire

Sonnen batteryWhile Tesla continues to make the splashy headlines to the outside world, SONNEN continues to position itself to make a bigger impact with local and regional installers. The latest news: Blake Richetta, former North American Sales Manager for Tesla Energy, will head SONNEN’s growing expansion in the U.S. as Vice President of Sales.

The appointment of Richetta to head U.S. Sales comes on the heels of the company’s announcement of an $85 million minority equity financing in the global sonnen Group by several investors, including Envision Energy, and an earlier investment by GE Ventures.

SONNEN’s recent introduction of the sonnenFlat utility program in combination with their sonnenCommunity in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy has recently been recognized by the MIT’s smartest companies list in 2016. Richetta is the latest in a series of talent acquisitions for SONNEN and he joins six other former European Tesla Managers at the company.

RELATED: Primer for buying, installing residential solar+storage systems 

“We are extremely happy to see top European and U.S. talent join SONNEN’s ranks to support our vision of clean and affordable energy for all” adds Philipp Schroeder, Managing Director and Chief Sales & Marketing Officer of SONNEN.

Prior to Tesla, Blake spent 15 years at Lutron Electronics, building Lutron’s smart home lighting and shading business through multiple channels of distribution. Blake’s experience in consumer electronics is a key to advancing SONNEN’s market leadership in the U.S.

SONNEN develops and manufactures the sonnenBatterie smart energy management systems in Germany and in San Jose, California. Through its sonnenCommunity, homeowners throughout Europe can produce, store and share their own electricity. SONNEN’s latest development, the sonnenFlat, is the next step in virtual power plants enabling thousands of sonnenBatteries to be aggregated into one large storage pool that provides balancing energy for the powergrid in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy.

— Solar Builder magazine