tesla solar plus

Tesla’s New Battery Could Solve One of Solar Power’s Biggest Problems

tesla solar plusSo far, specific details are thin on the new battery designed for home use that Tesla’s announcing next week. But just based on what we do know, it’s a pretty big deal. The quest for a good battery that can store home-generated power is kind of like the holy grail for a renewable energy future. This one product might change everything.

New York Times article published earlier this week essentially sets up the problem that Tesla’s battery will solve. In Hawaii, 12 percent of homes have some kind of solar energy, by far the highest rate for any place in the US at the moment. In fact, that rate is growing too quickly—solar customers are dumping so much energy back onto the grid that they’re taxing the delicate and often aging infrastructure that was only designed to deliver power to homes. What’s happening in Hawaii is actually indicative of what’s going to be an issue everywhere as many cities start to see an increase in large-scale solar implementation: There’s going to be too much energy generated, and nowhere to put it.


solar plus

The Home Solar plus Energy Storage Revolution Is About to Begin

solar plusHome solar batteries from Tesla Motors, which could upset utilities as we know them. Billion dollar solar bonds from SolarCity, backstopped by banking bigshots.

Happy Earth Day!

After being artificially suppressed for decades, renewable energy developments have accelerated, with excellent timing. Earth Day brought mounting news via Bloomberg that Tesla’s anticipated home solar batteries, hinted at in March by an Elon Musk tweet, will be announced at the end of the month. But the truth is really that they have already arrived, beneath our noses, in about 300 California homes solarized by SolarCity, as well as 11 smart Wal-Marts.

On April 30, Tesla will unveil further details on its forthcoming line of residential and utility scale solar batteries, to the delight of greens looking to pile up cash while downsizing their carbon footprints. Utilities, whose electricity generation is America’s top source of greenhouse gas emissions, are certainly going to be watching — and counting too. They know, like Tesla and other cleantech titans on the come-up, that energy storage is going to be a billion dollar market, thanks to demand, incentives and inevitable climate changes. Simply wading into the home solar market has given Tesla access to $65 million in incentives, reportedly boosting its stock price, which has lately been on $200 autopilot, by another $70 per share.

Tesla’s partnership with SolarCity has proven as green: In honor of Earth Day, America’s panel installation leader activated a billion dollar solar fund, in partnership with Credit Suisse, to finance 300 megawatts of commercial projects over the next few years. Add that to the hundreds of millions that SolarCity has pulled in, from Goldman Sachs to Google, to accelerate its industry-beating residential and commercial installation pipeline, and you have two renewable energy titans that are taking Earth Day quite seriously.

But it’s not just them, and it’s not just beginning. As I wrote above (and elsewhere, everywhere), these exponential solarizations have been held back by an energy industry simply too used to doing the same dirty business for too long.

If Tesla’s home solar batteries — predicted by Thomas Edison way back in 1931 — are as user-friendly as its electric vehicles, then they could prove epochally influential. A more recent pre-Earth Day study from Rocky Mountain Institute prophesied that utilities could be up next for extinction, thanks to home solar plus energy storage. It’s going to be a bright, hot summer.


Elon Musk Had a Deal to Sell Tesla to Google in 2013

tesla-googleThis story is excerpted and adapted from Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, due out May 19 from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins.

On May 8, 2013, Tesla Motors shocked just about everyone by posting its first-ever quarterly profit, reporting higher-than-expected demand for its Model S electric sedan. That moment marked the beginning of a turnaround for Elon Musk’s tumultuous automaker. The next year would see the Model S win most of the automotive industry’s major awards and Tesla’s share price rise roughly fivefold, to more than $200. The 2013 profit announcement was fortuitous. Just weeks before, Tesla had been on the verge of bankruptcy.

Read more


Folsom Labs receives $1 million to expand Helioscope PV design software

helioscopeFolsom Labs, the San Francisco-based developer of HelioScope, has raised a $1MM round of funding from leading industry executives. The capital will be used to expand HelioScope to become a full end-to-end solar software solution, from initial customer lead to final close.

“HelioScope is already a phenomenal PV design tool, and we have the opportunity to extend it further, from refining residential functionality to generating permitting documents – and all steps in between. Even though we are profitable and growing rapidly, our customers are ready for that complete solution,” said Paul Gibbs, CEO of Folsom Labs. “This group of highly strategic investors will really help accelerate that vision.”

The round was led by Sheldon Kimber, Principal at Kokosing Capital, and formerly the COO of Recurrent Energy. It includes a number of solar industry veterans, including Tim Ball (founder of REC Solar and board member of SunRun), and Fred Kittler of Firelake Capital.

“The solar industry doesn’t need a new semiconductor technology – it needs tools like HelioScope that help installers design, deploy and finance projects more efficiently. Few understand this as well as the Folsom Labs team,” said Kimber. “Folsom Labs started by attacking the most valuable problem – system design and energy calculations – and are now uniquely positioned to become a true end-to-end solution for solar developers.”

“By raising when we didn’t need the money, we were able to be very selective about the investors we wanted to work with – and ended up with a group of investors that include the most experienced executives in the solar industry,” said Paul Grana, co-founder of Folsom Labs and Head of Sales & Marketing.  “Our investors make sure we are tuned in with where the industry is going on a 5- to 15-year horizon, and help us manage our growth opportunities effectively.”

HelioScope has gained widespread adoption across residential and commercial solar developers and EPCs. Customers include REC Solar, SunEdison, NRG, Rosendin Electric, GE Power & Water, and Borrego Solar – plus hundreds of small and medium-sized developers and installers.

“HelioScope has become essential to the way we run our business,” said Jay Miller, Director of Engineering at groSolar. “The software has transformed our pre-sales process, helping us cut our customer turnaround time in half. It then enables me to do powerful value-engineering – and then integrates seamlessly with the rest of our processes.”

Chris Anderson, CTO of Borrego Solar summarized the value of an expanded offering from Folsom Labs: “We’ve already adopted HelioScope across the prospecting stage of our business, dramatically reducing our turnaround time,” said Chris, “with this expanded offering, we will be able to adopt HelioScope throughout our end-to-end process, enabling us to leverage the labor savings even further.

“The Folsom Labs team has a proven track record of being responsive to customers and delivering improvements that really make a difference,” Anderson added. “We couldn’t be happier to be a HelioScope customer, and can’t wait to see what is in store next.”


solar and EV

5 solar and EV partnerships making our world much, much cleaner

solar and EVSolar power and electric vehicles (EV) each get a lot of attention amongst their own segments of followers, and there’s certainly a lot of overlap there. Even the mass media is picking up on the exponential growth trends and falling prices in these two markets. However, I don’t think the combination of the two gets the attention it deserves. Solar power + electric vehicles = “driving on sunlight,” or “gallons of light” as some have put it. If your aim is to have a positive impact on the climate crisis (and/or water crisis and/or air quality crisis), there’s often no better thing you can do.

Of course, there are a lot of companies working to make the world a much, much better place via this combo. I wanted to spend a little time highlighting some of these partnerships for those who don’t obsessively follow the solar and EV industries industries.


Is "range anxiety" only perception?

Report: EV “range anxiety” is only perception

Is "range anxiety" only perception?Electric vehicles (EV) may be the future, but until the “range anxiety” is taken care of, they may not be able to achieve widespread adoption. Tesla CEO Elon Musk drilled this point home last month with the announcement of “range assurance” and trip planner tools.

But is range anxiety all in the heads of perspective EV owners? A new study, by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), found that the perception of range anxiety may not match up with reality.

The researchers found that most daily travel needs of drivers can be met by EVs. So what is causing the concern over range?


HECO solar

How HECO is Using Enphase’s Data to Open its Grid to More Solar

HECO solarOn the island of Oahu, Hawaiian Electric Co. is opening a backlog of about 4,000 customer solar systems it once feared could destabilize its distribution circuits. That move is being helped along by Enphase microinverter data that can provide a much clearer view of what’s really happening on the edges of HECO’s grid.

On Tuesday, Enphase revealed details on a months-long collaboration with HECO to map out how customer-owned rooftop solar affects its distribution grid on a circuit-by-circuit basis. The results have allowed HECO “to clear nearly all of the backlog of customers awaiting approval to interconnect their rooftop solar systems in a safe and reliable manner,” Jim Alberts, the utility’s senior vice president of customer service, said in a prepared statement.

solar plus batteries

Home Solar Plus Batteries May Be the Final Nail in Utilities’ Coffins


The utilities are at an existential crossroads. Let’s hope they pick the road leading to grid-connected systems of solar plus batteries, before they lose thousands of customers and billions of dollars.

Unlike their larger off-grid counterparts, leaner and meaner grid-connected battery systems could check electricity costs and increase savings no matter what peak retail prices may be, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute and HOMER Energy’s new report, The Economics of Load Defection. Better yet, they could supplant the traditional grid by supplying the majority of utility customers with power, rewriting what the general public believes a utility to be in the process. Even if a fraction of customers independently go solar using grid-connected battery systems, the utilities stand to lose millions of kilowatts and billions of dollars in central generation. The utilities now must decide whether they want to part of the energy problem, or part of its solution.

“Today’s electricity system is at a metaphorical fork in the road,” RMI CEO Jules Kortenhorst explained in a press release. “Down one path are pricing structures, business models and regulatory environments that favor eventual grid defection. Down another road, those same factors are appropriately valued as part of a transactive grid with lower system-wide costs and the foundation of a reliable, resilient, affordable and low-carbon grid of the future in which customers are empowered with choice.”

According to RMI, cratering PV costs and rising retail grid electricity prices are making grid-connected solar-plus battery systems economic within the next 10-15 years — if not sooner, given the industry’s dizzying acceleration. By keeping these systems connected to the grid, the utilities can participate in the value being generated by their increasingly green customers, who won’t be encouraged to leave the grid entirely. Pursuing reform across three fronts — “rate structures, utility business models, and regulatory frameworks,” RMI explained — could insure that utilities eventually share in the creation of a vastly more interconnected energy infrastructure, instead of being bankrupted by it. Viewing and treating solar power, on or off the grid, as a threat is going to get them nowhere.

As grid-connected solar systems grow to redefine the role of central generation, the grid as we knew it is significantly relieved of its duty to meet its customers’ electricity needs. Using HOMER’s software, RMI’s report specified where and when these systems could be deployed, and even crunched the numbers on the amount of load and revenue loss the utilities could expect, should they decide against helping their “customers adopt the economically optimal configuration of these systems over time,” RMI explained.

“This is not all risk,” said report coauthor Leia Guccione. “Because these solar-plus-battery systems are grid-connected, they can offer value and services back to the grid. We need not see them only as a threat.”

solar storage

How do you catch the sun to make electricity at night? This German inventor has an answer.

solar storageHe’s electrified his bicycle. He’s electrified his Porsche. When he introduces his dog, Paula, you almost expect him to tell you that he’s electrified her, too.

Not yet, but you never know. The engineer from a small town in southwestern Germany is a classic tinkerer. His home is his development lab, and when he’s not wiring up his vehicles, he’s working on the latest iteration of an invention that he thinks will help solve what might be the biggest problem in Germany’s energiewende — its historic transition from fossil fuels and nuclear power to mostly solar and wind power.

Just a few years in, the country already gets more than a quarter of its electricity from renewables. But those sources aren’t always available, which limits their effectiveness


energy storage

Elon Musk’s next disruption: residential energy storage

energy storageOn top of taking the auto industry by storm, Elon Musk might well be on the road to disrupt the electric power distribution industry, as well, developing a battery storage system for the residential market. Tesla’s CEO announced last week that his company is looking to enter the residential energy storage market that is considered to have a huge growth potential. During an earnings conference call, Musk said that Tesla is already working on a home storage battery, that could eventually take utilities out of the picture for some homeowners.

Tesla plans to start production of a stationary battery that would power homes in about six months, as part of the company’s commitment to renewable energy and a carbon-free future. Although Musk hasn’t shared any details on the design and specifications of the battery, it will probably be a lithium-ion battery pack that will likely be manufactured in the Gigafactory that is under construction in Nevada. The residential energy storage unit will be connected to solar power systems that generate electricity through solar energy, which will be stored in the large battery packs manufactured by Tesla. This way, homeowners will either be able to completely disconnect from the grid or reduce their electric bills substantially.

 The batteries for home energy storage project will be conducted in collaboration with Solar City, the company that installs solar energy systems and builds EV charging stations, and is partially owned by Elon Musk. The plan is for Tesla to supply Solar City with battery packs, with Solar City installing them at households, and later on at commercial buildings.

Tesla and Solar City are already working on a similar project together, with Tesla providing batteries to Solar City, which then sells or leases them to homeowners, so that they can generate and store larger amounts of electricity. This helps homeowners cut their electricity costs, but also, eases the strain on the power grid.

 Installing large battery packs in residential buildings addresses a couple of big issues associated with solar power systems. For starters, they rely on sunlight to generate electricity, which means that they are not effective during nighttime and when there is no sunlight, forcing consumers to use electricity from the power grid. On the other hand, when the solar power systems generates more electricity than a household can use, the excess electricity is sent back to the grid, putting it under additional strain. With Tesla’s batteries, the grid would not have to deal with excess power, as they will have the capacity to store large quantities of electricity, without having to send it back to the grid.

 This is reason enough for utilities to start worrying about their future and the possibility of going out of business, given that larger and more efficient batteries, paired with more affordable solar panels might make many consumers get off the grid and start relying exclusively on solar power to meet their energy needs. Even though this possibility is still far from becoming a reality, it seems that Tesla is already starting to cause quite a stir in the electric power distribution industry, which does seem to be ripe for a transformation.

Solar Impulse 2

Solar powered aircraft: A flight of fancy?

Solar Impulse 2From the Wright brothers to Amelia Earhart, the history of aviation is rich in pioneers who dared to dream and push boundaries. Earlier this week two more innovators – Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg – set off from Abu Dhabi on a journey that could change the way we think about flying forever.

Their aim? To fly around the world aboard Solar Impulse 2 (Si2), a single-seater plane whose only source of power is from the sun.

Made out of carbon fiber, the Si2 has a 72 meter wing span and weighs just over two tons. A staggering 17,000 solar cells cover its wings, supplying four electric motors.

During sunlight hours, the plane’s solar cells recharge 633 kilogram lithium batteries which, according to the Solar Impulse website, “allow the aircraft to fly at night and therefore to have virtually unlimited autonomy.”

distributed energy

Deploying Distributed Energy Storage

distributed energySince the market for distributed energy storage is still in its infancy, however, there is a significant need for regulatory guidance and proactive policies to ensure a smooth integration into the existing electrical system. A reportreleased today by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) offers independent insight on how to address these new challenges – and opportunities – in the regulatory arena.

As the percentage of electricity generated from renewable energy sources continues to grow in the U.S., particularly from solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, technologies that can facilitate increased deployment of renewable energy, such as distributed energy storage, are front and center in state and national discussions.

“Distributed energy storage has enormous potential to be a vital tool for states that seek to expand the use of renewable energy, while also offering additional services that can broadly improve the quality and efficiency of the electric service provided by utilities,” says lead report author Sky Stanfield, who represents IREC in regulatory matters. “IREC developed this report to help identify key regulatory changes that states may want to consider in the near term in order to facilitate rollout of distributed storage in a manner that captures the greatest benefits and promotes a healthy market for storage services.”

Technologies such as distributed storage could lower costs and improve the quality of electric service. The electric system, however, was not originally designed with large amounts of local generation in mind, and there are important implications that need to be taken into account in order to maintain power quality and reliability.

“The demand for distributed energy storage is being driven by its potential to help address many of the challenges that are arising as the electric system in the United States undergoes some of the most significant changes it has experienced in the last 100 years,” explains IREC President/CEO Jane Weissman.

 Energy storage could offer additional benefits to customers, both by helping them directly manage their energy use and offering distribution system managers new tools to help maintain and even enhance the functionality of the electricity system. Because it has the ability to address a wide range of potential issues – including renewable energy integration, variability management, peak management, voltage and frequency regulation, grid resiliency, and energy management – distributed storage is gaining attention from customers, utilities and regulators.

“While a challenging issue for regulators and policy-makers, the increased interest in distributed energy storage is creating the need to address the issue proactively,” says IREC Regulatory Director Sara Baldwin Auck. “The states that take steps to establish the appropriate regulatory, market and technical foundations for distributed energy resources are more likely to capture the full range of benefits of distributed energy storage, including facilitating significantly higher penetrations of renewable energy resources.”

At low penetrations, issues associated with the integration of distributed renewable energy resources can likely be managed with existing grid management technologies and techniques,without the need for significant regulatory changes. However, as penetration levels grow, more significant regulatory changes and modifications to the grid may be necessary.

In this report, IREC identifies six key near-term regulatory policy considerations to help regulators, utilities, ratepayers and states as they evaluate and seek to capture the greatest benefits of distributed energy storage.

The report outlines why regulators should be interested in helping establish foundational policies to enable deployment of distributed storage. Building on this discussion, it then discusses the specific uses and benefits of distributed storage, and looks at the nature of current state policy efforts to address distributed energy storage in the United States. Finally, taking those insights into account and building upon the research regarding the potential applications, it provides six key policy considerations.

“The goal is not to identify the specific policy decisions that should be made, but rather to highlight the key areas where regulations may need to be created, clarified or updated in the near term,” explains Stanfield.

Specifically, regulators may consider:

  • Designing rate structures that send economic signals to energy storage customersto encourage them to operate their system in a manner that benefits the electric grid as well as the customer.
  • Creating or modifying markets for ancillary services and demand response to enable energy storage customers to offer those services, either individually, or in the aggregate.
  • Updating interconnection standards to ensure that energy storage systems have fair and efficient access to the electrical grid.
  • Clarifying eligibility rules for Net Energy Metering (NEM) programs to maintain integrity of those programs while also allowing storage systems to participate.
  • tImplementing a broader scope for distribution system planning and management than has been seen historically to create an electrical system that fully takes advantage of the benefits of energy storage when deployed with other distributed energy resources.
  • Coordinating oversight of energy storage systems with other governmental authorities to ensure safety without imposing duplicative or conflicting regulatory requirements.

As states begin to take action, IREC will continue to keep regulators informed about the lessons learned by other states and will help to identify best practices as they emerge to ease the learning curve for states.

Download the report

SunEdison storage

With new acquisition, SunEdison makes bold move into energy storage

SunEdison storageSunEdison, Inc., the world’s largest renewable energy development company, and Solar Grid Storage LLC, a leader in deploying combined energy storage and solar PV systems, today announced that SunEdison has acquired the energy storage project origination team, project pipeline, and subject to customary consents and assignments, four operating storage projects from Solar Grid Storage. SunEdison now offers battery storage solutions to complement solar and wind projects worldwide, providing solutions that can benefit utilities, municipalities, businesses, and consumers alike.

“Storage is a perfect complement to our business model and to our wind and solar expertise,” said Tim Derrick, General Manager of SunEdison Advanced Solutions. “Our strategy is to increase the value of the solar and wind projects that we finance, develop, own, and operate by improving their availability and ability to interact with the grid. With this acquisition we have added the capability to pair energy storage with solar and wind projects, thereby creating more valuable projects and positioning ourselves as a leader in the rapidly growing energy storage market.”

The growth in the energy storage market is being driven by commercial and municipal customers who are interested in both immediate energy savings from solar and emergency back-up power from storage, and by electricity grid operators, who place a high value on storage for its ability to make the grid more resilient and less susceptible to failure. Renewable generation-plus-storage has proven to be a cost-effective way of integrating renewable energy such as solar and wind into the grid.

“Solar Grid Storage is unique in the storage industry in that we approach storage from a solar perspective. Understanding the core solar customer value proposition, as well as the ways that energy storage can add customer benefits and economic value to solar projects, enables us to deliver renewable energy projects that are more valuable for both customers and grid operators,” said Tom Leyden, Chief Executive Officer of Solar Grid Storage. “Becoming a part of SunEdison, a renewable energy market leader with a strong pipeline of customers and development projects, positions us incredibly well to accelerate our growth and integrate energy storage with renewables to help create the electricity grid of the future.”

The move into energy storage follows SunEdison’s successful acquisition of First Wind. With 5 gigawatts of solar and wind assets under management around the globe, the company expects to realize significant synergies and opportunities for growth by integrating energy storage into its global finance, project development, and asset ownership platform. Solar Grid Storage will integrate its solar-plus-storage control services with the SunEdison Renewable Operation Center, enabling global 24/7 asset management, monitoring and reporting services for energy storage assets.


Storage Can Capture Benefits Across the Energy Supply Chain

chainIn hundreds of installations and over years of run-time, customer-sited energy storage technology has been proven to offer a multitude of benefits to the electricity supply chain. The challenge and opportunity are that the term “energy storage” can mean different things to different people; more often than not, it’s simply batteries in a box. From our perspective, customer-sited distributed storage means an integrated platform where best-in-class components are chosen for their reliability, safety and performance and integrated with cloud-based controls and algorithms into a UL-certified appliance intended for use as a grid asset. When aggregated and orchestrated to serve as a single resource — a Virtual Power Plant — this option represents an attractive, economically viable approach if all potential value streams are accounted for and properly compensated.

Building the business case for storage swimming upstream

For storage projects to pencil out and technologies to take hold, the business case needs to make sense. From a network perspective, a commonly acknowledged value stream is the avoided or deferred capital expenditure associated with conventional grid capacity augmentation or reinforcement. Through load shifting and solar smoothing, integrated energy storage platforms can reduce grid strain caused by high penetrations of renewables and help utilities defer costly distribution infrastructure improvements.