Home energy storage has emerged as one of the fastest growing segments in the energy industry. The possibility of greater energy independence and increased resiliency is driving massive numbers of consumers to adopt storage systems to maximize clean, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
What’s the hype all about?
A residential energy storage system allows a household to store self-generated clean energy – typically when nobody is home in the middle of the day when the sun is most productive – to consume later, during peak hours, when energy rates are high.
Additionally, consumers who produce more energy than they need can sell it back to the utility provider, a practice called net metering. Self-consumption and net metering help offset high grid demand during peak times, and bring greater energy independence, backup power and lower household utility costs to consumers. To facilitate the use of self-generated resources, the energy stored in these systems is managed by intelligent software that maximizes energy usage for both the consumers and the utility.
Higher demand, bigger challenges
Early adopters and affluent, eco-minded individuals were among the first to jump on board with home energy storage, creating a buzz at the consumer level and drawing appeal from the broader public. Solar customers are now viewing storage as a natural extension to any solar investment because of the flexibility and future extensibility it provides them.
Now, more storage systems are being installed, showing that more people are committing to a cleaner energy future and making storage an immense opportunity for solar installers to expand their clientele and business presence in new markets.
However, like any industry, higher demand brings challenges for installers tasked with setting up these systems in end-users’ homes. Because energy storage is a new technology and each system varies in the value it provides, installers need to fully understand customer needs, local utility tariffs and storage technology options to provide the best possible service to their customers.
Step One: Learn the products and market
The first step in offering smart suggestions is to learn the energy storage products currently on the market to gain an understanding of options. Installers can be viewed as the “boots on the ground” who a customer deals with face to face, so it is important that they are prepared to answer questions about product choices, value differentiation and pricing. The key to understanding the product landscape and ensuring a smooth installation process lies in manufacturer training. In addition to providing general information about the products that a manufacturer offers, these classes help installers gain an understanding of all the factors that can come into play when designing and installing a home storage unit. Also, certification classes are frequently offered by solar organizations and at conferences and trade shows, such as NABCEP, to keep installers on the top of their game with the latest industry products and practices.
Step Two: Examine the installation site
Once installers understand the product landscape and industry best practices, a thorough walk-through and site survey is crucial. Installers need to determine the best placement of the home storage system, a factor which depends heavily on the system itself, in many cases. Some systems, like the sonnenBatterie eco, are designed as a single “cabinet”, with very little extra balance of system components required, making installation simpler. Other systems require external third-party components to be integrated and connected, a process which involves additional engineering time and installation. Other crucial location factors that need to be considered by the installer are positioning of the system in relation to AC load centers, National Electric Code (NEC) workplace clearances and proximity to required communication (Ethernet or WiFi).
Step Three: Determine household storage requirements
A feature that is unique to energy storage systems and crucial for installers to understand is scalability. Different retailers and manufacturers offer systems in various storage sizes so that these systems can be properly sized to the homeowner’s needs, which are heavily dependent upon the application or use case. For instance, the sonnenBatterie eco scales from four kWh up to 16 kWh in increments of two kilowatt hours. This allows the system to be scaled appropriately in both cost and energy needs. Storage manufacturers have developed tools to help installers determine the storage capacity and PV required to meet customer energy needs. An improperly-sized battery could be detrimental to the battery cells. Smaller, more appropriate sized systems allow the battery to cycle fully more often, which leads to healthier cells and less maintenance. Additionally, accurate sizing helps to ensure that the customer’s needs and expectations are met and that they will have greater satisfaction with their system in the long-term.
Step Four: Understand the region and utility landscape
A properly-sized system can allow customers to efficiently engage in self-consumption, manage time-of-use, utilize back up power and feed excess energy to the grid, where allowed. Besides household usage patterns, installers can greatly benefit from a deep understanding of the local government, utility structure and incentive programs in order to provide unique recommendations to the homeowners. For example, in some regions, consumers can save money by selling energy back to the utility through net metering. In other cases, “behind the meter” systems in households can be mandated to return a portion of their self-generated energy to the utility grid, which helps offset demand response and stabilize the grid during peak times. In some areas, homeowners can receive financial incentives for investing in renewable energy and/or storage, which can come in the form of up-front or recurring payments, on-bill credits or exclusive rates. Understanding and sharing this knowledge with customers ensures they make the right choice, and view you as a partner in their clean energy future.
Step Five: Transparency pays off
Investing in solar and storage is no simple choice, and it’s a significant decision for many consumers. This makes it incredibly important for installers to be transparent and honest with customers about reasons for recommending a particular system and size. The customer should understand how to use the benefits, the impact it will have and warranty information. In the case of some residential home storage systems, different components (inverter, transfer switch, CPU, etc.) have different product life expectancies and, when one wears out, it does not necessarily mean the entire system needs to be replaced. However, sonnen’s system, with all its components integrated, is serviced under a single 10 year, 10,000 cycle warranty. Installers should be ready to explain to customers what they can expect over the long-term for replacement and repair costs.
Overall, for an installer in this growing market, the goal is to have as much information as possible gathered before the start of a project so that the right choices are made, installation goes smoothly and the customer is happy enough to recommend you to a friend. Solar and other renewables are often “contagious” in communities; one happy customer will share their story with others, causing more homeowners in the area to seriously consider adopting a renewable + storage system for themselves. With increased demand for solar, particularly in new markets where there are still fewer installers to take on the work, it is crucial for each installation to be completed quickly and efficiently to keep customers and local utilities happy.
Written by Greg Smith, Senior Technical Trainer at sonnen