sonnen & Wasatch Group Launch Largest Residential Virtual Power Plant — 12.6 MWh

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A new community of apartments in Herriman, Utah is being built from the ground up with a next generation energy storage system thanks to 12.6 megawatt-hours of sonnen’s ecoLinx battery systems. The new system will aggregate the energy storage and power output capabilities of 600 of sonnen’s 20 kWh ecoLinx intelligent energy storage units installed across the community into a single virtual power plant.

The Soleil Lofts apartment community features rooftop solar and sonnen ecoLinx energy storage. Image credit: sonnen

Rolled together into a single virtual power plant (VPP), sonnen’s ecoLinx batteries at The Soleil Lofts will comprise the largest fully installed and operational residential battery demand response solution in the United States. Every single one of the 600 apartments and all of the shared building on the property have their own 20 kWh sonnen ecoLinx unit. This allows the rooftop solar generation for each apartment and each building to be locally optimized as well as aggregated into a VPP.

CleanTechnica talked with Jarom Johnson, chief operating officer at The Wasatch Group, Jay Oman, vice president at Wasatch Solar Management, LLC, Blake Richetta, chairman and chief executive officer at sonnen, and Hermann Schweizer, chief technology officer at sonnen GmbH about the project to understand what sets it apart.

The diversion from the fossil fuel-fired norm started when CEO and owner of The Wasatch Group Dell Loy Hansen stepped back from his real estate business and realized that if they continued building the way they always had, the local air quality would just get worse and worse. That realization initially led him to a desire to electrify everything at their latest development, the Soleil Lofts in Herriman, Utah. With everything on site being powered by electricity, the company looked into the possibility of producing power on site, which resulted in the team choosing to install a dedicated rooftop solar system for each building and each apartment in the complex.

The installation is more than just a technical feat, as the builders at Wasatch Group opted to build a fully electric community backed by solar plus storage to make an impact. “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,” said Dell Loy Hansen, CEO of the Wasatch Group.

That desire initiated a research effort that resulted in partnerships with the local utility, Rocky Mountain Power, solar provider Auric Energy, and the energy storage solutioneers at sonnen. The resulting project is unique in that it is not a simple solar plus storage installation with a grid connection. Instead, it is Rocky Mountain Power that becomes the ultimate customer and manager of the resulting virtual power plant, with the ability to leverage the stored energy to make much larger impacts on air quality.

The sonnen ecoLinx unit. Image courtesy: sonnen

Adding energy storage was the icing on the cake, as it lets residents use the solar generated during the day through the night. The Wasatch Group chose sonnen to provide the energy storage units for the new Soleil Lofts development first and foremost because of the safety of sonnen’s energy storage systems. Most residential and utility scale energy storage systems use the popular nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) chemistry, which has fallen in price in recent years due to the higher volumes demanded for electric vehicles. sonnen opted for the safer lithium iron phosphate (also known as lithium ferro phosphate, or LFP) chemistry that is not prone to thermal runaway. Said another way, it doesn’t catch on fire when the cell structure is compromised.

When developing the home energy storage solution in the first place, “priority number one was safety,” sonnen CTO GmbH Hermann Schweizer told me. “Priority number two for the company is performance. We are thinking in the long term. It’s not a 3 or 5 year pick.” In addition to being safer, LFP batteries typically last longer than their counterparts using traditional nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) lithium-ion chemistries.

Choosing sonnen for energy storage opened up new possibilities for revenue on the grid services side of the equation as well and piqued the interest of the local utility, Rocky Mountain Power (RMP). Using its proprietary Grid Services technology, sonnen was able to bundle all 630 ecoLinx units at Soliel Lofts into a single virtual power plant and offer it up as a single unit to RMP. The 12.6 MWh VPP will be managed by Rocky Mountain Power, the local utility, to provide emergency backup power for the grid, to manage daily peak energy use, and for demand response as a tool for the overall management of the electric grid.

The sonnen ecoLinx at the Soleil Lofts. Image courtesy: sonnen

“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, chairman and CEO of sonnen Inc.

The Wasatch Group came into the project with a clear vision for what it wanted and fleshed out each building block for the project along the way. That included getting engagement from the local utility. “If it wasn’t for Wasatch Group bringing Rocky Mountain Power on, we wouldn’t be here,” sonnen CEO Blake Richetta said. When the project started, nobody knew what the pairing of these technologies would yield. But now, “Rocky Mountain Power is the most forward thinking investor-owned utility,” Blake told me.

The work done to understand what was possible with the VPP and solar generation assets at the Soleil Lofts has proved to be the foundation on top of which RMP is already working to build a larger scale platform for energy storage throughout the Utah grid.

The apartments will feature on-site rooftop solar power systems that will supply power to the homes and their sonnen ecoLinx energy storage systems. Image credit: sonnen

“Not only does Soleil Lofts all-electric community help improve air quality along the Wasatch Front in Utah, the project will create a platform for managing batteries for other customers we serve, as well. This partnership enables an innovative solution to provide low-cost utility services, not otherwise possible. We are honored to work with customers, such as The Wasatch Group, to help innovate for the future and make the lives of all our customers better every day,” said Gary Hoogeveen Rocky Mountain Power CEO.

A battery-based energy storage system of this size will allow Rocky Mountain Power to turn to the sonnen batteries installed in each home for extra power during a peak consumption event instead of having to turn to fossil fuel fired generation options. With most of the pollution in the region coming from automobiles and home heating, replacing home heating with fully electric units that run off of solar can make a significant impact on local air quality. “Early in the design process it was clear that sonnen was the leader in battery solutions to meet the needs of this project and others like it,” Hansen said. “Soleil Lofts is based on the fact that sonnen’s ecoLinx is the safest, longest lasting battery which can deliver utility grid services for decades of operation.”

As much as they are clearly proud of what has been accomplished at the Soleil Lofts, the Wasatch Group doesn’t see this as the definitive blueprint for a fully-electric solar plus storage community. Instead, the company is welcoming others to ask them about it and to improve upon it. “We want people to be inspired by it and to challenge it,” Wasatch Group COO Jerom Johnson said. “Hopefully the next person does something we can replicate.” It’s exciting seeing a company that is not only unafraid of taking on an innovative, stretching project head-on, but one that welcomes others to take their learnings and take a few more steps forward.

The first apartments in the Soleil Lofts development will meet their first tenants in September 2019. Just a few weeks later, the virtual power plant will be officially unveiled at a special event scheduled for the week of September 23rd held in conjunction with the Solar Power International show in Salt Lake City, Utah. Construction will continue until all phases of the development are completed, which is estimated to be wrapped up in December 2020.

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

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