Stem Inc, is the market leader in behind-the-meter energy storage, delivering turnkey solutions to customers as a means of bringing meaningful reductions in demand charges to customers.
CleanTechnica connected with Stem’s SVP of global sales and marketing, Alan Russo, at Solar Power International this year to get the inside scoop on what makes Stem tick today and how that’s changing now that it is folding solar into its catalog of turnkey solutions.
Stem’s bread and butter is bringing its technical expertise to customers being hit with large demand charges, time of use rates, high electric bills, or just looking to save some money month to month on their utility bills. They work with customers to custom design a solution that Stem then brings to the customer to ultimately deliver on the value proposition identified.
Solar-Plus-Storage Makes Everything Better
Energy storage by itself isn’t that exciting. In fact, just bolting batteries onto an electrical system might not have any noticeable effect. The transformative aspect of any stationary energy storage installation is the intelligence that controls the energy storage system and uses the storage capacity to optimize the overall profile of energy consumption to meet the needs of the consumer.
The prospect of rolling its mastery of C&I energy storage solutions together with solar brought Stem to Solar Power International this year to broaden its reach into the solar industry. The solar industry is well aware of the symbiotic nature of solar and storage.
“They’ve largely determined that to preserve the value of solar, it’s very desirable to attach storage,” Alan said. “The customer saves more money because now they’re able to get more utilization from those free electrons that they produce during the day when it’s no longer valuable to produce cheap electricity during the day and everyone wins as a result.”
A Smarter Energy Storage Solution
Some businesses are only looking to reduce their carbon footprint. (We need many more businesses that make this the top priority, but I digress.) Energy storage can store up excess solar generation throughout the day and stretch that far into the night to offset or eliminate the need to purchase any electricity from the grid.
Others just want to save money, and the ability to soak up cheaper power during off-peak hours and use it back from the batteries when power isn’t so cheap is completely feasible with today’s tech. The use cases go on and on, with demand response capabilities, demand charge avoidance, peak shaving, and on and on into scenarios that may exist only at the local level.
It was this complexity that prompted Stem to build its Athena AI system that digs into the nuances of the customer’s specific situation and, according to Alan, looks to layer as many value streams on top of each other for the customer. For many customers, the low hanging fruit is in leveraging the energy storage to eliminate demand charge reductions.
Just as rate schedules vary by utility, usage patterns and savings objectives vary even more by customer, so Stem built its Athena AI to be flexible and adaptable for each customer. It does this by keeping tabs on the unique load profile for the customer and balances it against the instantaneous cost of power that the customer is exposed to. Athena’s AI takes all of these disparate data streams into account to predict and execute to deliver the lowest cost output.
A Stronger Value Proposition
Stem has built its business on the proposition of adding energy storage to customer facilities as a means of optimizing the cost of energy across the customer’s business. Stem believes that adding solar to the proposition sweetens the deal even further by adding a local source of electricity generation that offsets usage in the highest periods. This offsets what is typically the most expensive power with locally generated solar energy.
“The key is to allow the customer to operate their business exactly the way they want to, regardless of what’s going on with utility rates,” Alan said. “That’s the challenge: utility rates are trying to change customer behavior so that they can change when they consume energy to solve the grid’s problem. Batteries live between the utility and the grid and allow you to operate your business exactly the way you want to, optimized for you, and the utility still gets the benefit of seeing demand when it’s most convenient for them.”
Stem’s unique approach to building its Athena AI system with the capability to manage other energy storage systems means they can work with essentially any energy storage system. They currently sell Tesla’s energy storage products as well as those from a number of other manufacturers. For most customers, the systems are designed and spec’d out by a Stem installer partner, but for larger customers, Stem will jump into the discussions alongside the installer to ensure the system is optimized for their needs.