ANGELES — If disaster ever struck, Joe Fleischmann
could keep the lights, refrigerator and big-screen TV
running in his Orange County home, even if the power
company went dark.
is an early adopter of home energy storage: In his
garage is a battery strong enough to help keep the
essentials in operation.
home of the former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy
sports a full suite of eco-friendly power equipment —
solar panels on his roof as well as battery storage and
an electric vehicle charging station in his garage. But
even with all his powerful tools, Fleischmann still can’t
cut the power cord with Southern California Edison.
ties with the centralized power system — going off the
grid — might be a dream of survivalists and some
consumers, but the reality is difficult to achieve. The
cost of batteries large enough to power air
conditioners, a washer, dryer and other big energy
guzzlers would imperil most homeowners’ budgets.
far as being completely off grid, it’s kind of a
foreign thought to me because you’ve always had to
rely on the utilities," Fleischmann said. "We
could do that, but at what cost?"
the leader in the residential electricity storage
industry — and supplier of Fleischmann’s $26,000
battery system — doesn’t see consumers defecting
from their utilities.
off-grid is ridiculous," said Blake Richetta,
senior vice president of Sonnen Inc., who oversees the
German battery maker’s U.S. arm, which is based in
North Hollywood. Sonnen has about 18,000 residential
systems, primarily in Germany and Italy.
only is it costly to turn your home into a virtual power
plant, Richetta said, but it makes the consumer’s home
an island that would be unable to tap the central power
system if the off-grid operation fails.
going it alone negates a more global benefit:
Residential and commercial power systems can provide
support for the electric grid and utility companies.
storage adds value, significant value, to the grid
operator," said Richetta, a former North American
sales manager for Tesla Inc., which has a battery line
of its own.
instance, as consumers add solar panels and battery
storage, combined with increasing energy efficiency,
demand decreases for electricity from traditional
utility companies. That helps utilities avoid
construction of new fossil fuel plants such as natural
are essentially helping the grid do things it could
never do before in a cheaper and cleaner way,"
although Fleischmann’s system comes with a high price
tag, the cost has been dropping substantially, making it
potentially more affordable for average consumers in the
next few years.
Manghani, director of energy storage for GTM Research,
said the installed price of residential systems has
dropped 25 percent to 30 percent over the last two to
three years. The cost of the batteries themselves has
declined by about 60 percent during that time to about
$425 per kilowatt-hour, he said.
consumers can benefit from state and federal incentives
that can reduce the overall cost, Manghani said.
some places, living off-grid makes more sense than in
the United States, that place is Hawaii, which has the
nation’s highest electricity rates at roughly twice as
much as what Californians pay per kilowatt-hour. Because
Hawaii must import fuel for its power plants, costs run
higher utility tab makes it a simpler decision for
consumers to spring for solar panels and battery
storage. And that potential sales opportunity has drawn
the attention of energy companies including Sonnen,
Tesla, Sunrun and Blue Planet, which are offering solar
and battery packages similar to Fleischmann’s system
but at various sizes.
for other places, even relatively high-cost California,
it can be difficult to get a deal that includes storage
for less than what consumers are paying their utility
company for electricity.
probably not going to save enough money to make that
work," said Ron Nichols, president of Southern
California Edison, which serves about 15 million people
through 5 million residential and business accounts.
"Right now it doesn’t pencil out."
acknowledges that the equation might improve eventually
for residential consumers.
technology is going to get better over time," he
said. "And its costs are going to come down."
said he sees some of the greatest, immediate
opportunities in commercial storage systems such as at
schools, large office buildings and other commercial
customers pay a premium for using electricity at times
of peak demand. A battery can reduce commercial
customers’ use of electricity from the utility company
during those periods and ultimately save money. In
addition, they can contract with the power company to
allow the utility to draw electricity from the battery
when the electric grid might need it.
not some silver bullet for everything," Nichols
said. "But we’re finding new opportunities. They’re
going to be very helpful for the grid in the
STORY CAN END HERE)
Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar
Energy Industries Association, agrees that battery
prices are still a bit high on the residential side. But
she argues that just as commercial customers can assist
the electric grid with their batteries, so can
residential consumers by staying connected to their
utilities and the wider electric grid.
solar and storage industry are really, actually
committed to a green grid," Del Chiaro said.
"It really is seen as making the grid stronger and
more resilient, as opposed to everybody an island unto
Chiaro said utility companies benefit from the argument
that solar plus storage is too expensive for residential
customers because they retain control of electricity and
keep prices high for consumers. But working toward
empowering consumers will ultimately reduce their costs,
we’re trying to push for is something that truly
transforms the market," Del Chiaro said.
"Everybody just thinks solar and storage are toys
for the rich. The utilities run around Sacramento and
call solar plus storage the ‘Cadillac class.’"
if utilities are allowed to set the agenda for how the
electric system develops, she said, "we’ll keep
prices really high that way."
who retired from the Sheriff’s Department after a back
injury, installed a 6.5-kilowatt solar array on his home
three years ago. He added the Sonnen battery system last
thought the Sonnen system, which looks like a storage
cabinet in his garage, provided a good match for his
home. The system is expandable, unlike some batteries,
and can be operated from a computer and smartphone.
think it actually looks pretty cool," Fleischmann,
goal was to save money on the electricity consumed by
his family of five as well as to provide backup power in
an emergency. He wasn’t thinking off-grid.
he purchased a large battery — 12 kilowatts, while the
typical home system, Nichols said, is about 4 kilowatts
and enough to last about four hours. Fleishmann chose a
large system with the benefit of a state rebate that
picked up about a third of the cost of the battery.
keeps about 20 percent to 25 percent of his battery in
reserve as backup while tapping the remainder to support
his home or send to the electric grid.
the grid goes down, we would still have a source of
electricity," Fleischmann said. "I think with
the popularity of the system and as the costs come down,
more people will be able to invest in them."