Panasonic’s batteries underpin the electric vehicle revolution as we know it today, thanks to an early partnership to supply its 18650 lithium-ion cells from Japan to Tesla for its Model S and X vehicles. More recently, Panasonic’s new 2170 cells built at Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 outside Sparks, Nevada are now used in Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y.
Panasonic was a behemoth before its partnership with Tesla and it is building on its deep bench of products in the consumer space to build a suite of residential energy storage products. CleanTechnica spoke with Panasonic Sales Engineer Dan Glaser about the work Panasonic is doing to unify the various energy systems in the home into a single, intelligent operating unit.
The core of Panasonic’s push into intelligent home energy management is its Evervolt energy storage system. At its core, Evervolt is a residential energy storage system that can store excess power generated by a rooftop solar system, feeding it back into the house when the sun goes down. Evervolt uses the same Panasonic batteries that power many electric vehicles around the world today and comes from a brand with more experience producing and building products that use batteries than just about anyone else in the world.
Evervolt was launched at SPI in Salt Lake City last year and is just now hitting the market. “We just started really shipping product at the start of this year,” Dan said. “We do have the app that goes along with it,” Dan said. “It’s simple but powerful for the homeowner,” enabling a variety of different operating modes to be selected.
The system enables homeowners to store up power for use as a backup in the event of a grid failure and can also be tuned for more nuanced applications like time of use management, or to maximize self-generation from a rooftop solar system. “We have pure backup mode, we have peak shave mode, different operating modes to maximize the consumer’s ROI,” Dan said.
Evervolt is unique in that it is offered in an AC and DC configuration that optimizes the energy flow between the solar system, the battery, and the home. When installed in a new home, the DC version of Evervolt enables rooftop solar generation to flow directly into the batteries without the additional losses that come with converting the power to AC first, then back to DC again for storage. The AC version makes it easy for homeowners to simply bolt on an energy storage system to their home as a retrofit.
The Evervolt system does have to be installed with a rooftop solar system, but doing so enables homeowners to keep the lights on for days as the battery is continually recharged by the solar panels instead of just hours with the power stored in the battery.
Whole House Integration
With the Evervolt system at the center of the solution, Panasonic sees a much larger opportunity in tying its other products in the home into a single unified system. “We’re looking at integrating everything into a single platform,” Dan said. “We’re in a fairly unique position in the market with home builders and home building applications.” Panasonic’s products in the home range from ductless mini-split HVAC units to indoor air quality monitoring systems and more. Tying all those systems into a single energy system within the home gives Panasonic the ability to optimize the energy consumption of some of the larger consumers in the home.
This is the low hanging fruit, but Panasonic is already looking beyond its own products out into the home. Dan talked about Smart Load Centers and how Panasonic is looking at tapping into the bigger picture of energy consumption in the home to see where the opportunities are. “Knowledge is power so there are different devices out there where you can install them and they can tell you where most of your energy is being consumed,” he said.
Dynamically operating and sensing at the house level means the system does not require direct knowledge about each and every device in the home. It simply uses bolt-on systems to determine what the energy generation and consumption profiles within the home look like.
The concept is simple, and Panasonic believes its strong brand provides a logical foundation for partnerships with new home builders to fill the new home with modern technology from day one.”Hopefully we can provide the entire system so when a homeowner is spending a lot of money on a new house or a retrofit to their existing house, it’s from a single entity they know they can trust.”
Panasonic does have a strong brand, and from what we’ve seen to date, an extremely strong line of products for the renewable home of the future. Panasonic’s HIT solar panels are some of the best solar panels out there and the newly launched Evervolt system looks to be built to deliver an impactful solution for homeowners. These two technologies form the foundation for homeowners moving forward, but even with this impressive pairing, Panasonic believes it is just getting started.
“Basically, automating everything in the home so when you go, the ideal situation is that when a new home is built, it’s built to the standards to minimize ecological impact,” Dan said. “Make sure that home is as healthy as possible and as energy efficient as possible. That’s really the ultimate goal.”
The Home Energy Hub
The beauty of a massive player in the consumer electronics, battery cell, HVAC, indoor air quality, and energy management spaces (to name a few areas Panasonic plays in) moving into the smart home energy management space is that it already knows what the energy consumption profiles of other devices look like in the home. Consumers don’t want to have to configure each and every energy consuming device, appliance, thermostat, etc in the home. “Many homeowners do just want to set it and forget it,” Dan said. “If we have different apps, it could be a pain point for consumers.”
Much like most smartphone apps, the Panasonic app is geared towards ease of use. Dan talked about how simple the setup was for Evervolt in the app, and really, how often would you expect owners to check the status of their home battery?
When we first installed our two Tesla Powerwalls, I checked the app incessantly, but that quickly tapered off – and I’m an enthusiast. I’d expect the vast majority of customers to want to know where they can go to check on the state of charge and change the operating mode. Beyond that, the app is basically just hanging out on the phone until an outage or similar event that would trigger owners to check the app.
While the setup is super simple by design, behind the scenes, Panasonic’s system is anything but simple. “We have different inputs for the product yourself,” Dan said. “The inverter is measuring output from the solar system. We measure what’s coming to and from the grid.” Taking all these inputs and making decisions over time based on the initial configuration from the homeowner or from an artificial intelligence is the logical direction for the system. “It’s something homeowners had to think about in the past because in general, it’s not something that’s at the forefront of people’s minds.”
Not the First, But Often One of the Best
As a longtime global player in consumer facing products, Panasonic prefers to take a more cautious approach when bringing new products to market. That’s the price the company pays for delivering products that can stand the test of time and live up to the impressive warranties it tacks onto its products. “From our perspective, one of the biggest value adds we can provide, just being the company we are and our core motto as the Panasonic solutions company is to make a better society for everybody.”
That approach has made moving into energy storage a challenge as the space continues to evolve rapidly. “With energy storage, at least so far and the situation is changing daily, people are still very interested in energy storage,” Dan said. At SPI in 2018, we met with Panasonic to talk about its partnership with residential energy storage solution provider Pika Energy. The solution gave Panasonic first-hand experience with residential energy storage products and clearly paved the way for the launch of its own Evervolt system.
One year later, the company launched Evervolt, and here we are just a few months later talking about building a complete home energy monitoring and management system on top of a Panasonic-powered solar and storage system for residential use. “We’re obviously taking the approach with Panasonic that we’re really good at certain types of hardware and technology,” Dan said. It may take them longer to bring those products to the table, but when they arrive, consumers can be confident the products will deliver.
Panasonic built the Evervolt system to be upgradable over time. One critical piece of functionality they knew had to be included was the ability for the energy storage system to play in the grid services market as part of a larger virtual power plant or similar aggregated bartering unit, Dan said.
“It’s a very new mode of distributed energy,” and presents a massive opportunity for growth beyond just selling hardware. “Looking to the future, there’s a lot of stuff happening and a lot of new products coming,” he said. “We’re still in the early tranches of energy storage so there’s a lot of exploration and navigation to be held in the future so we’re happy to be here.”
It’s clear from my chat with Dan and research into Panasonic’s new product offerings that they are gradually building out a suite of solutions that will indeed leverage its strengths to improve the lives of customers over the long haul. “That’s our main focus and the reason many things move a bit slower,” he said.
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