Some of the most important innovations happening in energy today are happening far from the national media headlines. But these small changes will go a long way to making power more reliable, competitive, and local, with solar energy playing a central disruptive role that could dominate energy in the next century.
One of those moves happened yesterday, when SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) bought a $20 million stake in Tendril and agreed to license its Energy Services Management Platform software. Here's what the deal means over the next few years.
What this means for residential solar
At its core, Tendril is essentially an energy data company. It collects and analyzes data about consumers' energy usage patterns, primarily learned from partnerships with utilities. SunPower can use this data in its installations to optimize a home's renewable energy consumption, provide stored energy when it's needed, adapt to changing policies for solar, and even improve sales by finding its ideal customers.
You can think of SunPower's capabilities with Tendril as a piece of the home of the future. SunPower will provide local energy production with solar panels, and with energy storage and connected devices SunPower can intelligently plan energy production and consumption based on consumers' desires. If a consumer wants to consume as little energy as possible the system can be set for that, just as it could be set to consume as much of your own energy production, or optimize for cost if there are rewards for sending energy to the grid at peak times. All of this will work in the background, similar to a car's eco mode, but it'll work to make energy more dynamic and controllable for consumers.
This will also be important for sales in a diverse number of locations. Different states and countries compensate solar energy producers in different ways, and in the future, demand response, dynamic pricing, and even net metering may look different than they do today. With intelligent energy production, consumption, and energy storage, a world of possibilities are opening up to adapt to the future.
SunPower isn't going to control the smart home of the future, but it'll be a big piece of the pie. It will tie into a system like Home Kit for iOS or Control 4, which are the central controls for smart homes. It'll feed data to these systems, and from there washing machine cycles, air conditioning, and more can be controlled based on a consumer's desires.
Other small innovations impacting energy
This isn't the only innovation happening in solar, and some of the industry's most important advances have happened far from the headlines. SolarCity's (NASDAQ:SCTY) acquisition of Zep Solar lowered installation time and cost, making solar more accessible to consumers.
The lease was an innovation taken from other industries and adapted to solar, making it accessible for millions of Americans. Another financing innovation was the YieldCo, which has brought low cost financing to projects large and small. When they were launched, many of these products got little attention, but they were key to the solar revolution.
Better data is going to drive better solar energy
SunPower is buying into a company to access data, but this is something that will grow organically as well. SolarCity will likely use data from hundreds of thousands of installations to learn how and when to use solar energy in the future. Like SunPower, it is expanding into energy storage and more control of solar energy consumption.
As these small innovations take place it will make solar energy and the connected home more accessible for consumers, and even the sales process will be easier for these companies. These may be small steps, but they're part of a giant leap forward in energy.
Travis Hoium owns shares of SunPower. The Motley Fool recommends SolarCity. The Motley Fool owns shares of SolarCity. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.