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

Syncarpha Capital, Stem to build solar+storage projects in Massachusetts to participate in wholesale energy markets

solar storage coming soon

Stem, Inc., a leader in artificial intelligence (AI) driven energy storage services, announced a new partnership with Syncarpha Capital to build 28.2 megawatt-hours (MWh) of large-scale storage projects co-sited with solar in Massachusetts.

Syncarpha is a New York-based private equity firm that develops, owns and operates distributed PV solar energy systems as well as energy storage systems. For Stem, the deal is an expansion into the front of meter (or wholesale distributed generation) market where distribution-connected sites are participating in the regional wholesale markets. This is a natural extension from Stem’s behind the meter operations in the Northeast where Stem has been helping customers since 2017 to reduce their Installed Capacity Payment “tags” and associated Customer Capacity Payment obligations.

“Stem’s AI acumen and project operation experience makes them an ideal storage partner for Syncarpha Capital as we build our newest solar fleet in Massachusetts,” said Cliff Chapman, CEO of Syncarpha Capital. “Stem’s AI-based project operation experience since 2012, and experience with storage co-sited with solar since 2014, creates a highly reliable partnership platform with Syncarpha’s long utility-scale solar and wholesale market experience.”

Don’t miss our Solar Power International preview issue in September — subscribe to Solar Builder magazine (print or digital) for FREE today

Syncarpha Capital is an established developer, having completed over 100 MW of solar assets in the U.S. Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southwest with an additional 70+MW of solar projects beginning or under construction in 2019. Stem will provide AI-driven storage solutions at five distribution grid-connected sites across Massachusetts that will be developed and owned by Syncarpha Capital. The systems will be connected to just over 26 megawatts (MW) of solar and will receive partial support from the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program, a state initiative that promotes cost-effective solar development with customer-facing and grid service benefits.

The systems will be managed by the Stem AI platform, Athena, which enables Syncarpha to participate in the New England Independent System Operator (ISO)-managed wholesale markets while complying with investors’ SMART and federal investment tax credit requirements. Moreover, Stem’s artificial intelligence platform enables its partners to participate in future wholesale and retail service revenues as regulators make those service programs available.

“Syncarpha is an ideal partner for Stem, with a long history of investment management and operating experience of distributed and utility-scale renewable energy projects,” said John Carrington, CEO of Stem, Inc. “Syncarpha’s particular experience and leadership in the U.S. Northeast positions Stem’s expansion in the Massachusetts, New York and PJM wholesale markets.”

Stem is the global leader in AI-driven energy storage services, with approximately 1,000 energy storage systems under contract and an additional 300 Athena platforms installed across six U.S. states, Ontario, and Japan. Stem’s AI platform, Athena, is the first of its kind for energy storage, performing real-time energy optimization that reduces energy costs and enables customers to access additional market opportunities via Stem’s network.

— Solar Builder magazine

Syncarpha Capital, Stem to build solar+storage projects in Massachusetts to participate in wholesale energy markets

solar storage coming soon

Stem, Inc., a leader in artificial intelligence (AI) driven energy storage services, announced a new partnership with Syncarpha Capital to build 28.2 megawatt-hours (MWh) of large-scale storage projects co-sited with solar in Massachusetts.

Syncarpha is a New York-based private equity firm that develops, owns and operates distributed PV solar energy systems as well as energy storage systems. For Stem, the deal is an expansion into the front of meter (or wholesale distributed generation) market where distribution-connected sites are participating in the regional wholesale markets. This is a natural extension from Stem’s behind the meter operations in the Northeast where Stem has been helping customers since 2017 to reduce their Installed Capacity Payment “tags” and associated Customer Capacity Payment obligations.

“Stem’s AI acumen and project operation experience makes them an ideal storage partner for Syncarpha Capital as we build our newest solar fleet in Massachusetts,” said Cliff Chapman, CEO of Syncarpha Capital. “Stem’s AI-based project operation experience since 2012, and experience with storage co-sited with solar since 2014, creates a highly reliable partnership platform with Syncarpha’s long utility-scale solar and wholesale market experience.”

Don’t miss our Solar Power International preview issue in September — subscribe to Solar Builder magazine (print or digital) for FREE today

Syncarpha Capital is an established developer, having completed over 100 MW of solar assets in the U.S. Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southwest with an additional 70+MW of solar projects beginning or under construction in 2019. Stem will provide AI-driven storage solutions at five distribution grid-connected sites across Massachusetts that will be developed and owned by Syncarpha Capital. The systems will be connected to just over 26 megawatts (MW) of solar and will receive partial support from the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program, a state initiative that promotes cost-effective solar development with customer-facing and grid service benefits.

The systems will be managed by the Stem AI platform, Athena, which enables Syncarpha to participate in the New England Independent System Operator (ISO)-managed wholesale markets while complying with investors’ SMART and federal investment tax credit requirements. Moreover, Stem’s artificial intelligence platform enables its partners to participate in future wholesale and retail service revenues as regulators make those service programs available.

“Syncarpha is an ideal partner for Stem, with a long history of investment management and operating experience of distributed and utility-scale renewable energy projects,” said John Carrington, CEO of Stem, Inc. “Syncarpha’s particular experience and leadership in the U.S. Northeast positions Stem’s expansion in the Massachusetts, New York and PJM wholesale markets.”

Stem is the global leader in AI-driven energy storage services, with approximately 1,000 energy storage systems under contract and an additional 300 Athena platforms installed across six U.S. states, Ontario, and Japan. Stem’s AI platform, Athena, is the first of its kind for energy storage, performing real-time energy optimization that reduces energy costs and enables customers to access additional market opportunities via Stem’s network.

— Solar Builder magazine

Energy Toolbase integrates Stem’s AI storage platform into its solar + storage design software

software integration

Energy Toolbase sent word that its solar + storage design software now includes the services of Stem, Inc., the world leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven energy storage. With this integration, distributed energy providers can simulate project performance, analyze financial returns and develop sales proposals informed by Stem’s Athena AI platform and rich operating experience. This integration will facilitate increased energy storage deployments by streamlining the project development process.

The U.S. energy storage market is forecasted to grow rapidly over the coming years. According to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables’ U.S. Energy Storage Monitor, total energy storage deployments will grow from 311 megawatts (MWs) in 2018 to 4,447 MW in 2024, more than doubling each year.

The Energy Toolbase software platform specializes in the sales and analysis of solar and energy storage projects. Over 1,000 distributed energy companies nationwide use the application during the sales and development stage of their projects. Precisely calculating the savings and economics of behind-the-meter storage projects is highly technical. Energy Toolbase simplifies the complexity of modeling a customer’s unique energy use profile, utility rate schedule, net energy metering rules and incentive programs.

Energy Toolbase and Stem will co-host training opportunities to overview the functionality of their new integration. Register here to attend.

Get to know Stem

Stem’s AI platform, Athena, performs real-time energy optimization that reduces energy costs and enables customers to access additional market opportunities via Stem’s network. Stem has approximately 1,000 energy storage systems under contract across six U.S. states, Ontario, and Japan.

“Solar project developers that are seeking to add storage need real-world performance simulation and market economic expertise, backed by long experience across a range of markets, to accurately estimate their customers’ potential returns,” said Alan Russo, Stem’s Chief Revenue Officer. “Stem works to unlock new value from solar + storage by enhancing project economics, future-proofing against changing rates, and expanding sales opportunities. Moreover, these assets have the opportunity to participate in wholesale markets and utility programs, all orchestrated by our AI-driven software.”

Since 2012, Stem has captured data from its systems on a one-second basis to feed Stem’s predictive analytics, machine-learning, and grid-edge computing AI. Stem partners with the strongest names among solar providers across the U.S. to unlock new value from solar projects for their customers, backed by performance guarantees.


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— Solar Builder magazine

Fresno school district breaks ground on 8.2-MW solar canopy project (and how it got here)

forefront power

ForeFront Power and Fresno Unified School District broke ground on 8.2-MW of solar parking canopy systems across eight District facilities. This project dates back to Fall 2017, when the School Project for Utility Rate Reduction (SPURR) and Fresno USD conducted a statewide request for proposal process to select the best solar and energy storage provider. The comprehensive procurement process through SPURR enabled the District to save considerable time, money and resources in their procurement process.

In the end, Fresno USD partnered with ForeFront Power after a rigorously competitive solicitation. The portfolio of projects, which includes intelligent energy storage solutions provided by Stem Inc., is expected to save Fresno USD $27 million over 20 years.

“By partnering with ForeFront Power, we were able to procure solar and storage for each of our comprehensive high schools and the District’s Service Center at no cost to taxpayers,” said Karin Temple, Chief Operations Officer for Fresno USD. “ForeFront Power understood the District’s desire for summer construction and accelerated the development of our projects to help minimize the impact to school activities.”

The SPURR Program pays off

Since 2015, the SPURR REAP program has been used by 20 school districts and municipalities to procure more than 50 MW of clean solar power across more than 100 sites.

“SPURR helped Fresno USD foster a more competitive environment than we could have done locally in Fresno,” said Jason Duke, Executive Director of Maintenance and Operations for Fresno USD. “Now other public agencies can piggy-back the process to save time and energy.”

The SPURR REAP Program solves traditional sourcing issues through aggregated, competitive procurements, taking advantage of SPURR’s large market presence, and resulting in pre-negotiated contracts, industry-leading pricing, and standardized terms for public agencies in California like Fresno USD. This program allows schools, colleges, and other agencies to benefit from clean energy sooner with less sourcing expense and effort, while leveraging a highly competitive procurement process.

“Our team is excited to construct even more projects in the greater Fresno area by partnering with Fresno USD,” said Co-CEO, Paul Walker. “These projects are especially innovative because of the combination of solar and energy storage to provide even more savings.”

The storage technology

ForeFront Power is using Stem’s artificial intelligence-driven energy storage solutions to provide energy storage across the District. Stem’s energy storage services provide real-time energy optimization to reduce costly demand charges, which can account for almost half of the District’s utility bills. The intelligent use of energy from the storage units combined with on-site solar energy generation helps each high school maximize its clean energy generation and enhance on-site sustainability.

Fresno USD will also bring solar learning into the classroom with science and technology education from Schools Power, a leading national education organization that provides school districts with standards-based renewable energy curriculum packages. ForeFront Power and Schools Power announced their partnership in July of last year.

Construction of the solar canopy systems is underway at Bullard, Fresno, Roosevelt, and McLane High Schools with the remaining four sites (Edison, Hoover, and Sunnyside High Schools and Service Center) breaking ground in the coming weeks. These 8 solar projects are expected to offset the equivalent of 10,633 tons of carbon dioxide avoidance annually or 2,000 cars taken off the road for the first year of production.

— Solar Builder magazine