SolarCity and Tesla are teaming up to bring a combination of solar power and storage to commercial buildings in California, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The system is called DemandLogic, and it involves batteries produced by Tesla Motors — “about the size of a small refrigerator” — combined with a solar array and software that communicates with the wider grid, responding to changes in rates and electricity demand and balancing those with what the solar array and the battery can provide.
The industry refers to the process as “load leveling.” It not only provides customers with a more reliable stream of power, it also helps out utilities by smoothing out demand peaks. That means they don’t have to fire up extra plants as often to fill in supply gaps, which saves them costs as bringing those plants on and offline is inefficient. Plants for covering those demand peaks also tend to be fired by fossil fuels, so cutting down on their usage benefits the environment through fewer carbon emissions.
Solar arrays are also well-suited to this kind of peak demand management, since they’re generating the most power when the sun is shining, which also tends to be when air conditioning use is at its highest.
But while it looks good on paper, the system still needs to prove its feasibility. “It’s not a no-brainer,” said Sam Jaffe, a senior research analyst at Navigant Research. “You still have to have the exact right combination of rates and demand charges and the cost of that equipment.”
The pilot program covers California, Connecticut and Massachusetts, so presumably it will spread further if the numbers add up.
The DemandLogic systems are designed with an eye toward eligibility for a 30 percent federal tax credit, and will be made available to customers with 10-year service agreements. SolarCity is guaranteeing reductions in costs for servicing demand, and they expect the savings to run in the area of 20 percent.
Nor is this SolarCity’s first partnership to expand solar’s use. At the start of 2013, the company partnered with Honda and Acura to offer low-cost solar systems to the car companies’ customers.