SunPower Working on Solar Plus Energy Storage

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Armed with a $1.8 million grant from the CPUC, SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWRA  ) is looking to demonstrate the integration of energy storage systems with existing PV systems for commercial customers. SunPower is partnering with Ice Energy, Xtreme Power and ZBB Energy (AMEX: ZBB  ) , and working with an unnamed major retailer to demonstrate the benefits of combining PV with energy storage. 

The "unnamed major retailer" is, in fact, named in the CPUC release -- it's Target (NYSE: TGT  ) stores. The program will be implemented by SunPower in conjunction with PG&E, KEMA, Sandia National Laboratories and Target.

The CPUC grant is part of the California Solar Initiative (CSI) RD&D program (RD&D, oddly, stands for Research, Development, Deployment and Demonstration). The CSI aims to create 1,940 megawatts of new, solar-produced electricity by 2016 with a budget of $2.2 billion over 10 years.

I spoke with Greg Tropsa, EVP and co-founder of Ice Energy, who said, "These technologies have the potential to be more valuable together than any single one of them alone, and that's what this project sets out to demonstrate." The project will demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of combined solar-storage integration on commercial buildings for peak demand reduction.

"As the sun begins to set in the afternoon, the Ice Bear units will deliver stored energy to bridge the gap between increasing building electrical demand and decreasing solar energy production," Tropsa explained. "The project will demonstrate that the combination of solar and ice storage will significantly reduce a building's peak demand charge, saving money for the consumer and helping the environment by reducing the need for utilities to dispatch fossil fuel-fired peaking generators. The bonus is the Ice Bear storage units are recharged during the off-peak hours, absorbing wind and surplus low-cost baseload generation."

Tropsa said, "The commercial properties are very repeatable in their load shape. The box retailers are incredibly predictable.  Whether it be fans, motors, cash registers or people -- the load shapes are very repeatable," adding, "The one space that's not repeatable is residential."

I spoke with Julie Bluden at SunPower about the grant. She expressed SunPower's corporate interest in understanding, "What are the consequences of adding storage to a rooftop?"

It's not SunPower's first look at combining solar power and energy storage. "We have worked on the Lanai 1.5 megawatt battery storage project," said Blunden. (See this article for details on that lithium-ion battery storage project.) She added, "This is the perfect experiment to assess different types of storage." Ice Energy uses ice as storage, ZBB is a flow battery, and Xtreme Power is a battery system.

"This is an important step in understanding the economic effects of storage, and an extremely useful step for understanding the commercial and industrial customer's storage requirements."

Blunden spoke about energy storage and variable generation resources. With "the low levels of [solar and wind] penetration in the western grid, ancillary services will continue to manage variable generation," said Blunden, citing an LBNL report on the ability of robust grid networks to withstand variable generation.

Blunden pointed out that photovoltaics and variable generation can reach enormous penetration levels and exist on a grid without storage. She cited the 7 gigawatts of variable resources on a 70-gigawatt system in Germany and 3 gigawatts of renewables on a sunny day in Spain. She said, "We have the data -- it's just in the EU."

NEA-funded Solar Storage is a startup, still in stealth, with some interest in this area, as well.

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2010, at 12:21 AM, jrmart wrote:

    In a recent article you mentioned that 27% of SunPower held short positions. Beware SunPower short sellers. SunPower is the world leader in solar panel efficiency, therefore, it can produce more power in less space. Because of this, SunPower is using Power Purchase Agreements to capture the worldwide commercial rooftop solar power marketplace. It works like this, SunPower installs solar equipment on the roofs of commercial buildings for free. In return the owners of the buildings agree to buy the power output from SunPower at a fixed rate for the next 10 years. In return, SunPower gets to use the roof space lease free. It’s a win/win situation for both sides. Stores in California and beyond are getting great fixed rates for electrical power under these Power Purchase Agreements. Hundreds of stores like MACY’s, Staples, Kohl’s and Whole Foods are all operating under this new commercial roofing standard. This also changes the way SunPower reports quarterly results, because these Power Purchase Agreements are accounted for over multiple years. Many of these projects are now being sold off by SunPower to other investors and power companies worldwide. When that happens, millions of dollars will come back to SunPower.

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