In the Ask an Expert series, HeatSpring instructors and industry thought leaders answer a question on the minds of the HeatSpring community. We are joined by Chris LaForge, instructor of the Designing Small Scale PV Systems with Energy Storage

While Chris has previously recorded his answer to this question, students in Chris’s HeatSpring courses have access to meet with him live to get their burning questions answered in our new Live Meetings feature. You can find the next live meeting for each course (where applicable) at the top of the course landing page. 

In this session, Chris answers the question – how can end users truly get the most out of their solar and storage investment? To check out Chris’s response, you can either watch the video or read the transcript below.

Brit: Hello, HeatSpring community. I am here with Chris LaForge. He teaches our Designing Small Scale PV Systems with Energy Storage course. Chris, you and I have chatted about how many manufacturers out there are selling a one size fits all storage option for residential customers, but it’s really not the case.

The question for you in today’s Ask an Expert session is – how can end users truly get the most out of their solar and storage investment?

Chris: Well, it’s a situation that I’m really concerned about because we have an opportunity as designers and installers to really enhance a lot of levels of our industry.

If we’re looking toward the future of a smarter grid and we see where our solar and storage comes in now, clients on the residential/small commercial scale are buying resiliency as their first service. They want backup power during power outages. We need to size that according to an intelligent discussion with our clients. We want to talk to the client and say exactly what you want to back up.

So if we take the Tesla approach and backup the entire house, we have to warn the client that, “hey, you know, if you’re running your whole house and you don’t turn anything off, this battery is going to last you about 75 minutes. And then the rest of the night, you’re going to be in the dark.” There’s a lot we have to do to educate our clients so that they can tell us what they really want.

And while this may seem like a lost leader up front work you’re not getting paid for, you’re not going to get an angry call back from a client who’s in the dark on their cell phone saying, “what did you sell me for $10,000?”

What we need to do is to really look more closely at our clients and tailor a fit to their real needs.

And as we get with more and more high-end clients where they got the two 200 amp service panels and the house with everything in it, really look at designing systems that may be do just power a secure load backup panel, separate from all the other loads so that the client doesn’t have to think about turning things off. And also think about what the client’s goals are. 

In all my design work, which you’d see in my class, we start with clients’ goals. We say, okay, what is the client really going for? Because when we do that, when the job’s done and the machine’s operating and the client’s using it, their goals are met. 

How much equipment do they really want to back up? How long do they have to back it up for? This is critical. 

In some areas you don’t get power outages, but once or twice a year for a couple of hours on average. And that’s something to take into consideration because if we’re building the battery just for that, I’m calling that a dumb battery. 

Dumb batteries are put in at great expense for one service that doesn’t get used. And that’s what a lot of these things are doing. 

If you look into the fine print of Tesla and sonnen and all the better manufacturers of this equipment, they’ll tell you that they’re ready for a smarter grid – where they can arbitrage the energy cost of the client and deploy the solar at the highest rate, and then keep the battery full at the lowest, and do some very, very intelligent services, which all lead towards eventually residential customers becoming prosumers, as they say, at Rocky Mountain Institute, where we are producers and consumers. And all of a sudden we can get into ball with an aggregator and that aggregator can sell our battery services to both utilities and transmission authorities at noticeable returns to us.

This gives us the battery that doesn’t just sit there, waiting for that occasional power outage and doing no other services. It gives us a battery that’s set to provide multiple services in the market as it grows. And then instead of a $10,000 or $14,000 battery that sits around doing very little, all year, just giving us some comfort in having backup power.

Now, we’ve got a resource that our utility is going to be interested in, aggregators are going to be interested in, and we’re going to be able to see a revenue stream come back. So that investment won’t just be – I paid for my resiliency and I’m done. 

Now – I paid for my resiliency. Where do I get to get the most for my solar? Where do I time shift my solar deployment so that I’m getting the most from my utility? Where do I do my best to be able to play in the ancillary markets I just spoke of and get some revenue streams coming back? Because this is not very far in the future. And in some markets, it’s right now, like if you’re on the east coast, PG&E market, it’s right now. You can do this. 

So let’s look at our designing and our clients as part of the new broadened grid, the new democratic grid, where we all get to play the game of what’s our best ROI based on service stacking. And then that’s going to determine the battery size in a much more clean way. And maybe for our next question, we can look at actual details on battery sizing with all those services in mind.

Brit: Okay. Excellent. I’m sure you’ll have a lot of people interested in checking out that question and answer session. So thanks so much, Chris. We appreciate your time today. We’ll catch you at the next Ask an Expert session. 

Chris: Thanks. And if you really want to design systems, well, think about this course.It’s a fun course. 

Brit: That’s right. Thanks.