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6 September 2019

Sonnen powers largest battery DR project for Rocky Mountain Power

Rocky Mountain Power has announced a Virtual Power Plant (VPP) in Herriman, Utah, which is being powered by ecoLinx batteries from Sonnen. Installed at the Soleil Lofts apartment complex, in partnership with the developer Wasatch Group and solar installer Auric Energy, the system comprises 600 individual batteries for a total capacity of 12.6 MWh.

The VPP, so-called because Rocky Mountain can treat it like a power generation asset thanks to all that rooftop solar and storage, can be used in grid flexibility and DR applications. The utility manages the system, which also serves as the emergency backup power supplies, and when it is complete in December 2020, it will be the largest operational Residential DR system in the USA – bigger than the Green Mountain Power and Tesla VPP.

“The combination of solar and long-lasting, safe, intelligent energy storage managed by the local utility is an essential component to the clean energy grid of the future. The solar industry should find inspiration in this extraordinary project, as it provides a blueprint for the future of grid optimized battery storage,” said Blake Richetta, CEO of Sonnen Inc (the North American wing).

Utah, population 1.8mn, actually suffers quite a lot of blackouts, and so a high-end development can attract a better price if it can offer the promise of never having a power cut again. The first residents are moving in, but it’s not clear if all 600 rental apartment units have been snapped up.

“As the developer of Soleil Lofts, we started with the firm belief we could build a community that was solving the Salt Lake Valley’s serious air quality issues today and in the future. That belief led us to partner with Rocky Mountain Power, Sonnen and Auric Energy for the development of an all-electric community utilizing solar and batteries,” said Dell Loy Hansen, CEO of the Wasatch Group.

For Sonnen, this is the start of what it hopes is a significant expansion into the US. The German firm has installed around 40,000 batteries, but most of these have been in Europe. Now owned by Shell, has demonstrated VPPs in its home country and the UK, and with the US, which suffers from extreme weather and power outages at a much higher frequency than Europe, such DR systems could provide a much-needed value-add for property developers.

The US requires some pretty substantial upgrades to its energy infrastructure, especially to accommodate wildfires, hurricanes, and floods. The transmission networks, the large high-voltage grid, are not so bad, but the distribution networks, the lower-voltage and customer-facing ones, are in need of upgrades.

For a case study in how not to handle this, look to PG&E, which is now being raked over the coals for its involvement in sparking fatal wildfires in California. The National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) is already warning of ‘mega blackouts’ that could be caused by sever earthquakes, and of cyberattacks.

So, new developments like Soleil Lofts seem like the ideal candidates for solar-plus-storage installations, to take advantage of historically low costs and increasing demand for grid services. Getting the utility directly involved is one way to go about it, but a private per-home option is equally viable from an emergency power outage.

However, being able to aggregate these homes together into a VPP provides a much better asset for a utility to make use of. This would be possible at scale if enough individual homes are pooled together, likely via a smart home equipment provider or the utility, but in a new development, on its own microgrid, the utility can enjoy a much more focused and joined-up tool. Complete islanding would be possible for the complex, which would not be possible if it were a mix.

Some 5 MW of solar panel capacity is being installed on the rooftops of the complex, and the 12.6 MWh of battery power splits nicely into 21 KWh of electricity per home – enough to last a good few hours from full capacity. Rocky Mountain Power will look to top up the batteries from the rooftop solar, and draw from them when conditions are favorable – such as when the cost of purchasing reserve power to match demand would be exorbitant. Utah has favorable solar conditions, from a meteorological point of view.

Speaking to The Verge, Sonnen CEO and Co-founder Christoph Ostermann said “as one of the world’s largest producers of carbon dioxide, the US need solutions to promote renewable energies. Politically, this may be controversial, but there are more and more consumers who recognize this. The hurricane or the cyberattack comes, the grid is gone, but you can continue to light and operate your house.”