By Blake Richetta
With increasing uncertainty about the future of energy in America, many consumers are looking to break free of their sole dependence on utility companies and utilize renewable sources of energy instead.
For many, this means turning to renewable energy sources such as solar power. And it’s not just early adopters anymore – the U.S. solar industry is growing faster than ever. According to an industry insights report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a new U.S. solar installation was performed every 84 seconds in the third quarter of 2016. There are now nearly 1.2 million individual solar systems installed throughout the U.S., and more than a million of those are residential systems.
Solar is considered by many as an ideal solution for cost savings, as well as reducing one’s carbon footprint. With climate scientists and the general public are greatly concerned by emissions produced by traditional fossil fuels, solar has established itself as a key alternative energy source in homes and businesses around the world.
But there’s a growing group of solar users who are on the cutting edge of energy technology. These clean-energy pioneers have upgraded their panels to integrate with advanced home energy-storage technology, achieving greater energy independence and foolproof protection against potential disasters and power outages.
Several companies are making strides and emerging as leaders in the home energy-storage space including Sonnen, Tesla, SolarMax and Enphase. At my company, Sonnen, we focus on equipping our batteries with smart technology that maximizes the home’s use of self-generated solar energy and minimizes the homeowner’s dependence on the utility grid.
Here is a brief overview of how most solar storage systems work:
- Energy is gathered from alternative means (in this case, solar panels).
- The battery saves energy collected during non-peak times (the middle of the day, when the sun is shining and families are out of the house) to be used during peak times (in the evening when the sun is not shining, utility costs are high, and families are using their lights and appliances).
- Intelligent software within the battery gathers data on the household’s typical energy consumption patterns and uses this data to cost-effectively manage household energy sources and usage throughout the day.
- Effective energy storage and management means a household rarely needs to draw from the local power grid, bringing them closer to energy independence.
Home energy-storage technologies solve an obvious problem for solar users: how to make use of the solar power homeowners produce during the day while at work or school. With storage, these families can save that energy and use it when it’s really needed – in the evening when all the lights are on and the sun isn’t shining.
The ability to save energy produced at peak hours for use in a home after the sun goes down has reduced dependency on the grid and driven this market forward.
The possibility of energy independence is driving many consumers around the world to invest in a greener home and install solar panels paired with battery technology. At the same time, demand is also being driven by ongoing changes in solar incentives and net metering, as well as uncertainty about potential increases in utility tariff rates. Many users see storage systems as a way of maximizing the value of their solar investments and protecting themselves from rising utility costs.
It’s no longer about having reliable backup power during an outage – it’s about making clean-energy consumption more efficient, more sustainable, and more affordable and accessible for more homeowners.
The future of clean energy looks like communities of homes generating their own supply of energy and sharing their surplus with other households who are running low -- resulting in a network of homes that are entirely free of traditional utility energy generation.
This may seem hard to imagine, but it’s not a concept of the future. In Germany, an entire community just like this one already exists. The sonnenCommunity is an interconnected virtual network of sonnenBatterie owners who have standalone PV installations, wind turbines and smaller biogas units that provide a green and personalized base generation to the sonnenCommunity.
Approximately 8,000 households in Europe, both with and without solar on the roof, are trading their stored energy with each other. By using excess renewable energy from the community to power their homes, members are building a cleaner and more reliable energy future.
The sonnenCommunity in Europe is primarily made up of homeowners with a photovoltaic (PV) system and a sonnenBatterie that stores surplus solar power. The community pools renewable energy generated by houses fitted with PV systems, standalone PV installations, wind turbines and smaller biogas units, and provides it to homeowners as an alternative to conventional energy providers.
However, even households without the ability to generate their own power can obtain electricity from the community using the recently released sonnenBatterie City system. With the sonnenFlat City tariff program, apartment owners and renters can pay a flat fee to obtain, store and use free electricity from the community without needing to generate their own power.
While the goal of totally independent, clean-energy communities may be harder to achieve on this side of the Atlantic due to state-specific regulations, the U.S. shows significant promise and growth in clean-energy adoption. Eco-minded, cutting-edge Americans continue to seek out the best ways to maximize their solar systems, creating buzz about the industry and driving the market forward.
While energy independence may look different in the U.S. right now, the emergence of energy storage innovators, like Sonnen and its peers, proves that American consumers are already looking for what’s next in clean energy. Recently, we’ve seen innovators start to pair home energy-storage systems with smart thermostats. This addition takes efficient energy use one step further, allowing intelligent temperature controls to help a household further regulate their power consumption.
One short-term action industry players can take in a move toward energy independence is partnering with traditional utilities. Working together, utility and storage companies can optimize energy usage for consumers and take the first step toward greater energy independence and a greener earth.
Image credits: 1) Pexels; 2) Courtesy of Sonnen
Blake Richetta is vice president of sales for sonnen, where he leads the company’s U.S. expansion and builds strategic relationships with regional distribution channels. Most recently, Richetta supported sonnen’s decision to open a centralized InnovationHub in Atlanta, GA. With nearly 20 years of experience working with distribution channels in smart home and intelligent software, Richetta's experience in consumer electronics is key to advancing sonnen’s market leadership in the U.S. Prior to joining sonnen in December 2016, Richetta was North American sales manager for Tesla Energy. Previously, Richetta also worked for Lutron Electronics, where he helped to build the company's smart-home lighting and shading business for over 15 years.