How valuable is load management as part of a home solar + storage system?
Electricity use in the United States is projected to grow continuously in the coming decades, increasing by nearly 30 percent by 2050. In 2020, the residential sector was the largest consumer of electricity in the country followed by commercial sector. With this growing reliance on electricity, load management is often touted as being critical for solar + storage customers and the grid.
As part of our 2022 Energy Storage System Buyer’s Guide, we asked manufacturers to explain how valuable load management is as part of the modern solar PV + battery storage system.
Off-grid, proper load management is critical, says Mark Cerasuolo with Morningstar. “Customers require tools to measure, log, and control loads to maximize system uptime and prioritize their run time.”
Morningstar addresses this through the pairing of its External Source Control (ESC) with the Morningstar GenStar DC controller, which can smartly coordinate energy sources and system loads for maximum system performance.
“Real-time operating information can be employed for automated decision-making, allowing installers to dictate system behavior to exacting requirements.”
Energy prices on the rise
“In the current energy landscape we are not only going to see an increase in energy prices but also significant variability of prices in a single day,” says Julia Chen, Global Director, BYD Battery-Box. “This will be in response to unexpectedly high renewable generation (low or even negative pricing) or unexpectedly high demand (high prices).
“Increasing exposure to such price signals can generate great environmental benefits but only with the right technology. An intelligent energy management system will in this case reduce energy bills at the same time as it reduces reliance on expensive and polluting fossil fuels.”
Modern ESS can multitask
“Load management helps you save more by regulating your energy consumption during peak demand hours,” says Vikki Kumar, Systems Engineering Manager with Panasonic.
At a basic level, the Panasonic EverVolt energy storage system (ESS), homeowners have the ability to set the system on Time-of-Use mode during peak hours to offset their energy usage through the mobile app. This mode allows users to set the peak hours on the app based on the local utility pricing structures. The smart inverter ensures the battery discharges every day during this time window and minimizes the power consumption from the grid. The battery can also be programmed to charge only from solar which ensures excess PV power produced will charge the batteries during the day.
“Load management is an important feature of any storage + solar system to optimize performance and maximize energy cost savings,” says Sequoya Cross, COO of SimpliPhi, which offers monitoring and control apps such as the SimpliPHI ESS Energy Trak which manages electrical loads relative to their generation and storage systems. “Critical backup, TOU, peak shaving and demand charge management can all be achieved with intelligent software that monitors and controls a system on-site, as well as off-site for remote troubleshooting.”
Smarter circuits for whole-home electrification
Apart from programming battery discharge duration on the ESS, there are several devices that can be used to make load management smarter.
“One such example is using a smart load control panel which monitors the individual loads or circuits connected to the electrical panel and can be controlled from a smart phone,” Kumar says. “This type of smart panel can either replace the entire main electrical panel of the house or it can be a subpanel which monitors and controls about 6-12 circuits in the house. Similarly, there are smart circuit breakers that can be plugged into an existing electrical panel to monitor and control select loads.”
“Many U.S. households are built with obsolete electrical panels, causing significant challenges for customers interested in rooftop solar, batteries, and EV chargers.” says Miranda Barnard, Sunrun. “With more than 40% of energy emissions coming from fossil fuel burning appliances in and around the home, switching to electric-powered alternatives has become increasingly more important as consumers seek a cleaner, more cost-effective lifestyle. This often requires upgrading the home electrical panel.”
In order to accelerate whole-home electrification, Sunrun is including SPAN home electrical panels as part of its home solar and battery offerings in select markets to reduce installation hurdles when adopting on-site generation, EV chargers, and other all-electric appliances.
“SPAN smart home electrical panels enable customers to improve the energy resiliency of their home with solar energy, create fully customizable backup power switches, better manage home electrification upgrades, gain circuit-level visibility, and support the grid,” Barnard says.”
“The load management options are becoming smarter by the day and can work concurrently with utility to stabilize demand and supply,” says Panasonic’s Kumar, which also as partnerships in place with SPAN and Lumin. “When integrated with machine-learning algorithms, it monitors power consumption patterns to predict home energy needs and provide energy saving recommendations thereby making home energy management seamless.”
Counterpoint: Are smart panels much tech for not enough ROI?
When specifically thinking about the addition of a smart service panel, Andy Li, founder and CTO of POMCube doesn’t see the value for the price considering “it does not allow users to get more energy, nor does power more appliances.”
Conversely, with slightly more money, if we use it to buy additional batteries, photovoltaic panels, or even just add a grid-tied inverter, we are able to increase the operating hours of the battery system or use more appliances within daylight hours, or activate appliances with greater power demand, such as central air conditioning.”
He thinks system load management should focus on “channelizing.” If most of the electricity demand comes from the daylight hours, the most economical way is to add an additional photovoltaic inverter. If there is surplus or available credit line, you can add some more battery, and then replace the additional grid-tied inverter with an energy storage inverter or use two parallel energy storage systems to provide a complete whole home backup.
“The best way to counter the rising inflation is to invest in assets that can bring investment returns higher than what the inflation can dilute,” Li says. “Smart panel will not bring any return, but extra battery ESS and PV panel will enable you to buy energy in next 10 ~ 15 years at the discounted rate today. Customers need complete whole home backup and longer operation hours from battery.”
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