Sonnen seeks to work with US utilities, not replace them
In its home territory of Germany, energy storage provider Sonnen is making a play to replace utilities, but its business models in the US will instead emphasise cooperation with existing energy suppliers.
Earlier this month, Sonnen, formerly known as SonnenBatterie, said that it will install rooftop PV and Sonnen’s battery energy storage systems at a new development of 3,000 homes, in partnership with US home builder and town planner Mandalay Homes. The development, in Prescott Valley, Arizona, is intended to allow residents to self-consume onsite solar-generated power, which Sonnen says will give the community “very low” power bills “from the outset”.
What makes the multiple-dwelling deployment particularly interesting is that the Prescott Valley residents will be able to share the energy stored in their batteries, trading out their own surpluses and benefitting from the surpluses of others when needed. Essentially, the 3,000 household systems aggregated together will form a “virtual power plant” resource with a 23MWh capacity for an output of 11.6MW. At peak production times such as mornings, when solar energy is abundant, the lithium batteries will store energy and then feed it back into the grid when production drops and demand rises.
This is the first time Sonnen has brought its SonnenCommunity concept to markets outside of Germany – and latterly, Australia. When SonnenCommunity was first launched in the former, in December 2015, Sonnen managing director Philipp Schröder explained that SonnenCommunity takes power produced by PV panels and “pools it in a virtual pool”.
“We know in real-time if there is excess capacity and excess demand so we don’t have to wait for a year or half a year which is the usual billing process of a utility,” Schröder said.
“We have intelligent smart meters that are connecting these devices in real-time.”
However, while in Germany SonnenCommunity can be offered around the country on a subscription basis, even for people who do not have a SonnenBatterie or even rooftop PV, paying a monthly fee for electricity guaranteed to be at a lower price than power from major utilities, as Philipp Schröder told Energy-Storage.News, the ‘launch’ in the US is very different.
“In Germany, the SonnenCommunity is available countrywide. Every SonnenBatterie owner can join our energy sharing platform and use one of several sonnen tariffs like our sonnenFlat (paying a flat rate for power while Sonnen aggregates household batteries to provide grid services). So in Germany homeowners can actually replace their traditional utility using the renewable energy created by other sonnenCommunity members. Alternatively they can provide various grid services like frequency regulation or redispatch,” Philipp Schröder said.
“Given the unique regulatory and market conditions in the US, the technology for the SonnenCommunity in Arizona will be different from our German implementation.”