SolarCity: Utilities must accommodate ‘new paradigm’ of solar-plus-storage

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A spokesman on public affairs at SolarCity has expressed concerns that investor-owned utility companies might present similar obstacles to the increased deployment of energy storage in the same way that his company believes has happened to solar in the US.

Speaking to PV Tech, Will Craven also said he hoped recent problems in California, where the company successfully campaigned to have grid interconnection charges levied on its customers installing storage lifted, would not be repeated elsewhere. He said in a wider context that he hoped his company would not face “years of stalling” from utilities.

“I’m wondering if after this recent episode in California, if we’re going to fight a lot of the same… if we’re going to have a lot of the same conversations that we had about solar, which I find unnecessary because… having already answered all questions about solar’s impact and interaction with the rest of the grid, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to go through the same hoops for storage per se.”

“There are differences, different hoops that absolutely do need to be addressed with storage. There’s a lot more interplay between it and the grid but I hope that we don’t have years of stalling from other utilities.”

One of the largest solar installers and leasing companies in the US, SolarCity has moved into providing energy storage via pilot programmes for residential and commercial customers in key markets including California.

In May, Craven told PV Tech that the three major California utility companies were charging between US$600 to US$2,900 per residential meter to connect SolarCity’s customers and their storage systems to the grid, as well as delaying interconnections for several months at a time in some cases.

Echoing a recent blog post by SolarCity co-founder Peter Rive, Craven says that his company is “perfectly willing” to engage in discussions with utilities on the benefits of combining PV systems with energy storage.

“I think this is an opportunity [for utilities]. The utilities need to address the fact that they do have some competition and like other businesses, it’s an opportunity to try to cut costs in order to compete.

“What he [Peter Rive] was saying there is that utilities are often best positioned to kind of direct stored energy when and where it’s needed and we are perfectly willing to engage in discussions with utilities on how to enable them to utilise behind-the-meter or customer-side storage to manage the grid, for example at peak times when it’s under strain. So, you know we see opportunity. It’s going to require some creative thinking on their part. [Storage is] just such a useful tool for them that it makes sense.”

So far SolarCity, like some of its counterparts, is focusing on providing storage in US markets where storage has already been mandated by regulatory bodies and where high levels of PV penetration have caused strain on grid networks, such as Hawaii.

The full interview with WIll Craven of SolarCity can be read in full on the PV Tech Storage website.

This article has been amended to correct a reference to Will Craven's job title. Craven is a spokesman and director of public affairs at SolarCity, not head of public policy, as originally published.

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