Behind-the-Meter Energy Storage Goes Wholesale

Behind-the-Meter Energy Storage Goes Wholesale

To date, the short history of behind-the-meter energy storage systems for commercial buildings has been one of brand names and wraparound services. Startups like Stem, Green Charge Networks and Coda Energy, and of course, Tesla and sister company SolarCity have put together battery and power electronics packages, control hardware and software, financing and performance guarantees, and other aspects of the business under one roof -- and there's no real way for customers to mix and match different pieces of those offerings from different vendors.

Thats a logical way to bring a novel energy technology to market. But eventually, one could imagine behind-the-meter battery systems becoming just another piece of a broader building product portfolio -- albeit one that requires plenty of behind-the-scenes support for the contractors or energy services companies installing and maintaining them for their customers.

Last week, U.S. electrical equipment distributor Gexpro launched a new integrated battery product aimed at taking on this role. Its a first-of-its-kind approach to bundling batteries, power converters and software for wholesale distribution -- and its a potentially important breakout deal for Growing Energy Labs Inc. (Geli), the San Francisco-based startup thats providing the software to make it all run.

Gexpro, the former GE Supply distribution business bought by French electronics wholesale giant Rexel in 2006, is bundling lithium-ion batteries from South Koreas LG Chem and bidirectional inverters from Texas-based Ideal Power in its new battery energy storage solution (BESS).  Its first product, a 30-kilowatt, 40 kilowatt-hour unit designed for commercial building demand charge reduction, is expected to be available for purchase and/or lease later this year, with California as its initial target market, Mike Seavey, national solar product manager for Gexpro, said in an interview last week.

Were calling on and representing all the major commercial contractors in the state of California -- that is our bread and butter, thats our customer base, he said. So it made perfect sense for us to offer them a product. But we cant just offer them a battery and an inverter. We have to offer them a solution.

Thats where Geli steps in. As an energy storage management software vendor, it has provided on-site control hardware and a cloud-based management platform to projects including battery startup Aquions first commercial-scale project, Coda Energys electric-vehicle-plus-solar-panel battery project in Benicia, Calif., two California Energy Commission-funded microgrid projects, and most recently, Bright Powers microgrid project in New York City, which combined solar PV, battery storage, and combined heat and power.

I want thousands of little businesses popping up to own and operate, essentially, micro-utilities, with energy storage systems, Geli CEO Ryan Wartena said in an interview last week. Backing into that is a lot of data analysis. We right now have analyzed over 300 different facilities for demand-charge management, microgrid, and storage with solar, and with load control aspects as well.

That analysis is the basis of whats used for financing, he said. We go ahead and make models for performance, financials, and health of the system -- and were able to fit those models directly into our energy control software. And we run a service, as part of our annual maintenance, of whats essentially back-end validation.

Thats one of the big bottlenecks for financing energy storage systems, Wartena added. As a former battery researcher at the Naval Research Lab and MIT, hes familiar with how closely batteries effective life spans are linked to how deeply theyre discharged and recharged, how quickly and how often theyre required to undergo these cycles, and how often theyre allowed to rest in optimal states. Knowing what any battery system will be asked to do in each setting -- and managing the other energy loads in the system the battery is part of -- is an important part of planning out a cost-effective battery strategy, he said.  

This is the same kind of lifecycle analysis that software vendors like Greensmith and Younicos perform for utility-scale energy storage projects. Its also an important part of how behind-the-meter storage vendors like Stem and Green Charge Networks prove to their customers -- and financing partners -- that their installations are performing as expected, while avoiding the kind of improper use that would shorten their money-making lifespan. Any company trying to turn battery systems into products for others to use, as Gexpro is doing, will have to take on this challenge.

The Geli system will be monitoring these systems, and then were working on programs for maintenance of the systems in the field, and also service processes, Seavey said. The beauty of the Geli system is, if there is a problem with the system, Gelis going to know about it probably before the end user will know about it, since its being monitored both on site and in the cloud at second-by-second intervals.

Thats important for batteries that inject power into buildings to help them avoid peaks in power usage, which trigger demand charges that can add up to half or more of utility bills in certain markets like California and New York. We have to make sure this system is on-line 100 percent of the time, because we could miss that window, he said.

Source: The Energy Collective

Smart Grid Bulletin March 2019

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