Navigant Research Blog

Integrated Ecosystem Partnerships Are Critical to Innovative Residential Customer Solutions

— March 29, 2018

My recent blog regarding Southern Company’s Smart Neighborhoods initiatives with Alabama Power and Georgia Power demonstrated that innovative customer solutions can have customer benefits as well as utility value. These types of customer-focused solutions in both the residential and commercial and industrial sectors are the focus of our new Utility Customer Solutions Research Service. Further, these Smart Neighborhoods initiatives are featured in my recently released Strategy Insight report titled Maximizing the Residential Energy Customer Experience with Emerging Solutions.

Smart Neighborhoods Initiative Taking Shape in Atlanta

Since that first blog release, Georgia Power has released details on the roles that individual technology providers are playing in the Atlanta initiative. These partner roles include:

  • Alarm.com focuses on smart home security solutions and can connect smart home devices to make them accessible through a smartphone app for homeowners.
  • GreenMarbles is a connected home systems integrator that is a channel provider for Alarm.com that specializing in home automation and energy management solutions that can manage homeowner’s thermostats, door locks, lights, garage doors, and water sensors.
  • Hannah Solar is a Georgia-based solar PV plus energy storage installer for residential, commercial, and agricultural sectors.
  • Mercedes-Benz Energy provides home energy solutions related to EV charging, solar PV and battery energy storage that can help provide resilient backup power.
  • Sunverge Energy has developed a distributed energy resources (DER) software and hardware controls platform that allows for the integration of solar PV, battery energy storage, and home energy management systems (HEMS) across multiple residences across a virtual power plant.

Sunverge Energy Helping to Find Savings for Customers

As part of the Atlanta Smart Neighborhoods program, Sunverge Energy’s platform will help customers by forecasting and scheduling residential activities to provide energy bill savings based on Georgia Power’s Smart Usage or Nights & Weekends energy rates. Further, Sunverge Energy’s platform will help Georgia Power and Southern Company understand how aggregated DER such as solar PV, battery energy storage, and HEMSs can interact across multiple residences to optimize the local grid.

Innovative Partnerships Will Transform the Role of the Home

Both regulated utilities and deregulated utility services companies are now exploring new energy-related solutions such as the DER optimization demonstrated by Georgia Power. Further, technology disruptors with smart home/home energy solutions are also looking to deploy their new solutions—either directly with customers or in partnerships with utilities—to make homes more safe, convenient, and comfortable. Navigant Research anticipates that an innovative ecosystem of partnerships between customers, utilities, and vendors will come together to expand the role a home can play in safety, convenience, comfort, and the transition of the grid from traditional, centralized generation to part of an Energy Cloud platform.

 

Regulated Utilities Deliver Innovative Home Construction Solutions

— March 15, 2018

In a recent blog, I discussed how a new virtual net metering product is saving residential customers money by going solar with no money down while also retaining customers and reducing sales overhead for the energy service provider. This kind of creative, customer-focused solution is the focus of my new Utility Customer Solutions Research Service.

Utilities Are Rolling out Creative Solutions

The announcement of the Southern Company Smart Neighborhoods initiatives with Alabama Power and Georgia Power is showing that creative customer solutions can have utility benefits within a regulated utility jurisdiction as well. These Smart Neighborhood initiatives are featured, among others, in my recently released Navigant Research Strategy Insight report on these solutions.

In Birmingham, Alabama Power is now providing distributed energy resources (DER) including solar PV and battery energy storage, as well as smart home appliances and technologies as part of a new home construction development. This initiative will also aggregate renewable generation and distributed energy storage at the neighborhood level through community scale storage, solar PV, and emergency distributed generation to optimize the local grid and improve resiliency.

In Atlanta, Georgia Power is also providing DER (rooftop solar PV and battery energy storage), enhanced home insulation, advanced HVAC units, and LED lighting, as well as home automation systems with smart thermostats, smart locks, and voice control technology as part of a new home construction development. The Georgia Power program will collect data from the DER, HVAC systems, heat pump water heaters, and other technologies to inform grid optimization and new services for customers.

What Should We Expect in the Evolving Market?

Navigant Research anticipates that both regulated utilities and deregulated energy service companies will be increasingly more focused on these new solutions and business models to meet new utility customer expectations. For deregulated energy services companies, the reason is quite simple—the sale of electricity in retail choice is being commoditized, which reduces margins. Therefore, the drive to deliver new services without customer expenditures under longer contracts and recurring revenue is obvious. And there are few regulatory barriers to doing so.

But regulated utilities face regulatory constraints on what the utility can do beside operate the grid and sell electricity to customers, making the path to new business models more difficult. However, these two Southern Company Smart Neighborhood initiatives are extending the role a home can play in transitioning the grid from traditional centralized generation to part of an Energy Cloud platform while also creating new residential customer solutions.

 

Innovative Residential Solar PV Offering Designed to Increase Customer Retention

— March 13, 2018

In July 2017, I highlighted how innovative UK residential solar PV plus energy storage products were being brought to the residential marketplace. These kinds of new, customer-focused solutions are at the heart of Navigant Research’s new Utility Customer Solutions Research Service, which is focused on new solutions and business models for utilities and technology companies to meet new utility customer expectations.

Residential utility customers in Texas are now seeing another innovative business model being rolled out to take advantage of Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ power market rules and intense solar irradiance. This new Texas solar business model will be featured, among others, in my upcoming Navigant Research report, Maximizing the Residential Energy Customer Experience with Emerging Solutions.

The Texas model is an example of how the emergence of distributed energy resources and software innovation can come together to meet customer needs. Navigant Research envisions that these types of business model innovations will become more common to meet the needs of the utility residential customers of the future.

A New Model for Consumer Agreements

Sunrun and Think Energy, Engie’s retail choice electricity and energy services provider in the US, have partnered to offer a unique financed residential solar PV product. Due to local grid rules, there are no consistent solar PV net-metering policies to reimburse customers or solar PV asset owners for excess solar PV power provided to the grid. However, Sunrun and Think Energy created a virtual net-metering credit that residential property owners can apply toward their electricity bill for exported power. This new model allows Sunrun and Think Energy to save the customer money while engaging with a customer for a long-term, 20-year solar PPA agreement, rather than the typical short-term retail choice electricity procurement contract.

Traditional retail electricity choice sales in deregulated electricity markets has increasingly become more like non-energy e-commerce transactions. Many e-commerce transactions with high customer acquisitions have well-documented challenges to remain profitable. Think Energy is partnering to save customers money by going solar with no out of pocket expenditures while reducing its own customer acquisition by keeping the customers it has under a long-term agreement. Sounds like a winning approach across the board.

 

Distributed Energy Storage Poised to Support UPS Service Needs

— February 6, 2018

In a previous blog, I highlighted how corporate commercial and industrial (C&I) energy, facilities, and sustainability managers have new choices to manage their energy management and sustainability needs, giving rise to the growth of Energy as a Service (EaaS) solutions. Within Navigant Research’s EaaS framework, distributed energy storage systems (DESS) is a key component of the load management and optimization solution given its unique ability to control load and support resiliency needs alongside onsite distributed generation like solar PV.

Are New Solutions Worth the Expense?

The value of onsite resiliency creates much debate within the industry. There is little choice but to deploy uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems to provide continuous electrical service with high power quality to support resiliency needs for mission critical operations such as data centers, telecom operations, financial services centers, and hospitals. These mission critical UPS systems use complex, valve-regulated lead-acid battery systems. And given critical needs for continuous electrical service, these customers have been slow to adopt new or untested UPS systems using standalone lithium ion, even if these new solutions could improve the total cost of operation.

Due to the high costs associated with these systems, many C&I facilities without mission critical operations have been slow to deploy UPS systems to address electrical service outages. These non-mission critical facilities currently view electrical service outages—and the resulting financial impacts of the associated downtime—as an unmanageable cost of doing business. A recently released Navigant Research report, Advanced Energy Storage for UPS Applications, focuses on the drivers, barriers, technology issues, and market forecasts for this new non-mission critical UPS service segment.

UPS and DESS Go Hand in Hand

In this report, Navigant Research anticipates the emergence of a new UPS service option that will leverage DESS technology to provide resiliency support for certain non-mission critical C&I operations. Specifically, it’s expected that these DESS will be designed to provide demand charge reduction, enhanced demand response market participation, UPS service, and/or grid ancillary services to utilities and competitive markets where applicable. Further, DESS systems integrators and project developers are expected to leverage the energy storage financing innovation in the marketplace to provide UPS as a service without CAPEX to non-mission critical facilities to meet their unmet resiliency need.

In the near term, it will take some time for the regulatory frameworks to mature to allow DESS to efficiently provide ancillary services to the grid and add that project revenue stream. Further, ESS integrators and project developers will need to work on a cost-effective software/hardware technology for this new UPS service application. And while there are already systems integrators and project developers, like Sharp SmartStorage®, now pursing this segment, Navigant Research will continue to watch how these factors come together to grow this DESS market segment.

 

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