Businesses see storing energy while the sun shines as key to California power shut-off strategy
After three years of wildfires and now, blackouts, more and more business owners are looking to the power of the sun and storage of a battery pack for peace of mind.
“I tell people if they have solar, think about adding batteries,” said Aron Moore, owner and president of Sun First Solar of San Rafael. “Many of our farm, winery and grocery store customers are already using solar and portable generators if needed, but today everyone is talking about storage.”
For a few weeks or months, renting a generator might still be the choice. But for longer cycles, he says, “Solar with dedicated battery backup is the future. It's what we all have to do.
“We're getting panic calls and have been forced to turn others away. Sun First is booked solid through the end of 2019, but we're taking orders for next year.”
Solar tech innovators
Sonoma County is home to a number of solar technology innovators, including Enphase and Staubli.
For Enphase, its new Ensemble family of energy storage systems for residential solar energy storage including Encharge 10 (with 10 kilowatt-hour capacity all-in-one AC-coupled storage system with 12 grid forming microinverters) and Encharge 3 (a 3.3 kilowatt-hour AC-coupled storage system with four embedded grid-forming microinverters). These products are designed to allow users to start small and add incremental capacity as needed.
With offices in Petaluma, Enphase is already taking orders for its Ensemble product line, including its Enpower Smart Switch, a microgrid interconnection device that automatically transitions the system from grid power to backup power in the event of a grid failure. In addition, Enphase offers its IQ Combiner Series to consolidate interconnection equipment in a single enclosure, and IQ Series microinverters for Ensemble technology.
The company's wireless communications kit enables direct communication and system monitoring between Encharge, Enpower and IQ Envoy using 2.4 gigahertz and 915 megahertz frequencies in parallel to ensure reliability. The kit is connected to one of the USB ports on the IQ Envoy.
Windsor-based Staubli Electrical Connectors, formerly Multi-Contact USA, manufactures photovoltaic connectors for solar panels and offers battery energy storage systems.
The firm has 1 billion solar connectors and panel receptacles installed around the globe along with 217.17 gigawatts of solar panels successfully connected to date. Staubli has been in the MC PV connector manufacturing business since 1996.
Scott Olson, director of western state government regulatory affairs for Centrica Business Solutions, said a firm's historic power needs, whether to break from the gird or continue to explore options are some of the options facing businesses.
He noted that since 2010, solar costs have been reduced by 70% and batteries are following a similar trajectory, meaning next generation products could be even more cost effective with increased demand and economies of scale. He described some advantages and disadvantages of a few energy options.
Energy option pros and cons
Solar is good if there is enough sun to consistently generate several hours of backup power that can be stored in batteries for later use at night, in winter or on cloudy days - or when grid power fails.
Large capacity standalone generators are expensive and work only as long as you have fuel. Additionally, there are maintenance, fuel supply, system management and permitting issues to address. Legislative changes and California Air Resources Board decisions also have placed restrictions on the use of diesel generators to maintain air quality.
Fuel cells offer cleaner power generation with natural gas but are costly and do not size well in smaller versions. They also have permitting issues.
Other options include waste digesters, combined heat and power systems, and similar technologies.
“Companies have more options now when it comes to taking energy needs into their own hands. With so many economical and environmentally viable choices that work, management has the freedom and flexibility to stabilize the firm's energy continuity future,” Olson added.
Living off the grid is not for everyone, but some want to go it alone. Rody Jonas and Christine Hawthorne took this step and found that it paid off during the recent Kincaid fire. Their home is in the hills near The Geysers where they installed three essential elements - solar, battery storage and a generator - along with a dish for Internet connectivity. When the fire approached, Rody Jonas fought the blaze all night using well water, drawn by an electric pump powered by energy storage, that kept the fire from reaching the house.