Renewable Energy from Local Sources – California Edition

Founded in 20212, Sunnova has one goal: to power energy independence so homeowners have the freedom to live their lives uninterrupted. To achieve this goal, it offers customers a one-stop-shop for purchasing renewable energy that includes rooftop solar, residential battery storage, and the software to manage a company’s entire energy ecosystem. home. Using what the company calls its Adaptive Home technology, Sunnova helps make any home capable of generating and storing renewable energy. It optimizes energy sources and consumption by monitoring current energy needs, solar production, stored energy levels, grid health, time of day, energy price signals and energy consumption. other inputs.

Recently, the company announced that it had applied to the California Public Utilities Commission to develop a first solar and storage “micro-utility” in California. This innovative renewable energy platform allows residents, communities and businesses to share clean energy surplus and “island” from the legacy distribution system when needed.

Sunnova calls its business model “energy as a service”. By equipping new communities with solar power and storage, it will provide consumers with better energy service that will allow them to live in a more resilient home and community with the latest energy management infrastructure. For this new initiative, it has formed a wholly-owned subsidiary called Sunnova Community Microgrids California to develop autonomous micro-services. Focusing primarily on new construction, SCMC will work with developers to design and implement distributed solar power microgrids that will provide Sunnova’s adaptive communities with clean, resilient and reliable energy.

“Community microgrids are the future because they offer the unique ability to share excess electricity, putting power in the hands of homeowners and dramatically improving the resilience of communities,” said John Berger, CEO of Sunnova . “Sunnova is breaking new ground by extending its distributed energy service platform from homes to entire communities. We see a future where communities, neighborhoods and businesses can operate independently of the existing grid with sustainable energy sources that provide uninterrupted power. »

“We believe microgrids address a strong market need for more robust energy solutions and better connectivity,” he adds. “The Sunnova Adaptive Community™ will provide consumers with the ability to generate, share and deliver electricity when they need it most. SCMC’s application highlights the relief that the existing transmission and distribution system will experience given that the majority of the electricity that will be consumed by these communities will be generated locally from renewable resources. We hope the CPUC will act quickly to approve our application so that we can begin serving new communities. »

On August 16, President Biden signed the Cut Inflation Act, which incentivizes renewable energy and clean technology needed to monitor and control micro-grids where communities share electricity and can isolate themselves from the network. Since the IRA came into force, SCMC has taken formal steps to qualify as a “micro-utility” and apply for a certificate to build and operate micro-grids under Section 2780 and Section 1001 , respectively, of the California Public Utilities Code.

Image credit: Sunnova Energy

Sunnova views micro-utilities as a path forward for qualified companies to plan micro-grids that interconnect multiple residential and commercial properties in California. If approved, it will be California’s first solar and storage-focused “micro-utility” company certified to own and operate nano-grids (behind the meter) and assets communities, including distribution infrastructure (in front of the meter), as part of integrated micro-grid communities. SCMC’s community assets will provide comprehensive distribution infrastructure and energy assets, including solar, battery storage and emergency generation.

According to New York Times, Sunnova says its customers would see up to 20% lower electricity costs compared to rates charged by large, investor-owned utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. If approved, microgrids could undermine the growth of these large utilities by denying them access to new homes or forcing them to lower their rates. “If they don’t want to choose me, that should be their right; if they don’t want to pick you, that should be their right too,” Berger says.

Renewable energy microgrids face obstacles

California’s first renewable energy microgrid was built to replace a local diesel generation system at Kirkwood Mountain Resort near Lake Tahoe. But the electricity it generated sometimes cost as much as 70 cents per kWh, three to five times more than what the largest utilities in the state were charging. Eventually, the town of Kirkwood took over the utility and connected it to the state power grid.

The vision of generating electricity where it is used and decoupling from large utility companies sounds utopian, but the systems often have maintenance issues and other issues that take away the luster of the dream. Many small utilities created according to such models in the United States and Canada were later gobbled up by larger power companies. Some local governments have rejected permits for off-grid homes on health and safety grounds, arguing that a connection to the grid is essential.

Sunnova has lined up a strong partner in Lennar, one of the largest homebuilders in the United States. “We are a proud partner of Sunnova and support highly skilled participants seeking to solve some of the world’s most important problems,” said Stuart Miller, Executive Chairman of Lennar. “We value the current power grid and are intrigued by new microgrid solutions that can complement and support the traditional power grid and help address reliability issues during extreme weather and peak demand.”

Takeaway meals

Energy independence is a hot topic today, with the barbaric war on Ukraine causing electricity prices to skyrocket in many European countries and even in the United States, where higher electricity prices non-natural gas are pushing public service companies to rely on the combustion of methane to supply their production Stations are also concerned.

Microgrids provide autonomy to local communities who often see themselves as captives of the local utility. Controlling their own electricity gives homeowners and small business owners a sense of empowerment in places like Puerto Rico, where unstable grids and unexpected utility rate increases are taking their toll on homeowners, businesses and health care providers.

We reported yesterday on the acceleration of the movement towards the localization of energy sources in Europe. The democratization of electricity is underway and will fundamentally change the traditional way in which electricity is produced and distributed. The key question is whether the new models can offer the same reliability as the old one. This is still an unresolved question. The Sunnova experiment in California could bring us closer to a definitive answer.


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