As new energy storage technology continues to emerge and costs continue to decline, more customers and installers are interested in understanding how to integrate these storage solutions into their on/off grid solar systems for both new installations and retrofits. Energy storage provides a second level of power security and cost savings for customers and savvy solar installers who understand the added value storage brings to their residential and commercial systems. Identifying the goals and objectives of the customer for on/off grid installations requires asking the right questions and knowing what type of system integration can meet those objectives, using storage as the leverage point to optimize the assets.
Given the diverse landscape of competing storage technologies currently on the market, no two conversations about energy storage are going to be identical. Each discussion will have to be tailored to meet the specific customer’s needs and objectives. However, there are some common questions and project stages that can serve to educate the customer and ensure the project design and installation are aligned with the customer's expectations. As the VP of Sales for SimpliPhi Power, I believe it is critical to manage customers expectations by providing them with the information they need to make informed decisions on how best to optimize their investment.
Stage One - Get on the same page
A common misconception is that different energy storage technologies offer the same relative performance and cost advantages, regardless of the application. Additionally, many customers think the price point per kWh is the most accurate indicator for value. Many people don’t realize that energy storage solutions have vastly different performance profiles that impact both performance and cost. These profiles directly contribute to making an accurate analysis of the up-front price point compared to the true levelized cost of that energy storage over its useful life (LCOE).
“At SimpliPhi Power, understanding the true costs of the entire energy storage system over time is critical for both installers and customers,” says SimpliPhi CEO Catherine Von Burg. “We provide technical design support and comparative performance data to an extensive network of domestic and international solar installers to empower both installers and their customers to think critically about the long term costs they might incur with systems that sell at lower a price point and make the best decision for their particular project over its life.”
In today’s market, the concept of energy security resonates well with both on and off-grid customers. When his customers bring up the topic of energy storage, Rody Jonas, owner of Pure Power Solutions in Northern California, uses the moment to gauge their interest in making their home energy resilient.
“Within that dialogue we can get a sense of how informed customers are on competing technologies, how much of an education we will need to provide them on the various solutions, and how emotionally invested they are in the idea of energy security,” says Jonas. “If a customer expresses excitement about the idea, then you have a more viable route forward.”
The next step in this stage is understanding expectations of the customer in terms of how owning an energy storage solution will serve their home or business.
“I’ve had customers say, ‘I don’t care how long the grid is down, I want to be covered.’ Then we explain what it would cost to keep their house running at full load for one to two weeks during a major storm. This allows the customer to think more critically, and take a more realistic approach to backing up critical loads, such as refrigerators and a couple of electrical outlets for communications and lighting.”
Within this application, solar installers can help residential and commercial property owners find the middle ground between their energy security goals and their budget.
Stage Two - Sizing the system
With the customer emotionally invested in the idea of energy security for their property, the next stage is to perform an electrical load audit.
There are two paths to building an accurate load profile, which largely depends on whether the property is on or off grid. For an off-grid customer, the audit consists of an exhaustive analysis of the loads and what the projected use of electricity will be. The idea is to design a system with the maximum amount of energy storage to adequately meet their total electrical budget, ensuring uninterrupted power, even with intermittent solar or wind generation.
For on-grid systems, many customers choose to backup dedicated, critical loads only, such as lights, refrigerators, HVAC and security systems. Again, the design may go through several iterations before the perfect balance of electrical needs and financial budgets are reached. Discussing these priorities allows property owners to make informed decisions and have realistic expectations as to the performance and cost of their energy storage systems.
After the load profile has been identified, a discussion concerning how much maintenance is required to keep the the energy storage system running efficiently is necessary. Some customers are willing to manage the continuous maintenance lead acid batteries require over their useful life; others want to have a maintenance free solution such as SimpliPhi Power.
Stage Three - Installation requirements
Next, options for placement and storing the batteries should be discussed. Some lithium-ion based batteries contain cobalt oxides, which are toxic and prone to thermal runaway, posing a very real fire risk. It is often recommended that these batteries are stored away from the main house, with extensive ventilation and cooling. Additionally, some battery chemistries have a larger footprint than others for the same amount of power output capacity. The square footage customers must dedicate to the storage system alone can often rule out batteries that require a lot of space, such as salt water and flow batteries.
Armed with the load profile, maintenance preferences and a how much square footage a customer needs to store the batteries, a customer is empowered to select a battery chemistry that meets their project requirements. Be transparent and share both the relative positive and negative challenges that each battery technology provides and how it fits into meeting their specific needs.
Regardless of the storage solution ultimately recommended, taking this step by step approach to assessing and meeting the needs of the customer leads to successful energy storage installations that provide long term value and energy security.
“It’s incumbent upon this industry as a whole to ensure we have positive outcomes for customers using energy storage systems early on. Otherwise we are creating our own headwinds, losing credibility and the trust of customers for both solution providers and system integrators,” says Jonas. “It’s important for solar installers to educate and empower customers with accurate and objective information to meet customer expectations for both the solar and energy storage components of a system. If we do not, customers will be more than happy to tell their friends how dissatisfied they are with the project, and that will not further the industry at all.”
Written by Dean Middleton, VP of Sales for SimpliPhi Power