Meet Solar Grid Storage a startup mixing batteries and solar
Meet Solar Grid Storage, a startup mixing batteries and solar
(by Ucilia Wang published on GagaOM, dated O C T . 4 , 2 0 1 3 )
A young startup is building a business around installing solar panels and batteries.
Innovation in the energy industry isn’t just about new technologies, it’s about new business
The market for storing electricity is drawing not only startups building new technologybut
also new comers that want to build and install new projects. Meet Solar Grid Storage, a twoyear-old, angel-funded startup which just completed a project that mixes batteries with
solar panels and electric car charging stations in Maryland.
The Philadelphia-based company is one of a growing crop of storage project developers that
has materialized in recent years to stake a claim in a young market that’s being shaped by
public policies to promote clean energy use and reduce greenhouse gas emis sions. Solar
Grid’s CEO, Tom Leyden, compares his company to SunEdison and PowerLight, the two early
players in designing and building solar power generation projects.
SunPower, the Silicon Valley-based solar panel maker, bought PowerLight in 2007. Leyden
was actually an executive at PowerLight and later in SolarCity, before joining Solar Grid.
SolarCity has been marketing solar panels with lithium-ion battery systems from Tesla
Solar Grid develops projects that pair an array of solar panels with energy storage
equipment that could not only provide backup power but also sell energy delivery services
to local utilities and grid operators. It buys all of the necessary components and hires others
to create lithium-ion battery packs using cells from Panasonic or LG, the inverters and the
rest of the gear. It then puts the equipment inside a steel container and ships it to a
customer. The company’s intellectual property lies in the designs of its inverters and
algorithms for managing the charging and discharging of batteries, Leyden said.
Solar Grid also works on lining up financing for its projects, a particularly diffi cult challenge
given that the energy storage market is so young and many banks aren’t willing to put
money into what they consider unproven technologies. In fact, two of the big obstacles for
growing the energy storage market are being able to show that energy storage technologies
will work as promised over time and that there is good money to be made. Wells Fargo is
going as far as installing a battery system at one of its corporate buildings in Southern
California to collect this type of data.
Leyden declined to divulge the sources of his project funding but called them “boutique
investors.” Solar Grid’s energy storage projects for now promise to deliver returns in the
range of 12 percent to 15 percent, almost twice as much as what solar projects deliver these
days, he said. The premium returns are necessary to attract investors. The company focuses
on projects between 250 KW to 10 MW.
Leyden is working on raising a $50 million fund to finance 50 MW of energy storage
projects. The money would cover the equipment, installation, operation and maintenance
of the storage equipment over 10 years, he said. The solar portion of a project would be
Solar Grid could either develop and build energy storage projects for its customers who then
own the equipment, or it could own the projects and provide the energy delivery services.
Owning the projects and making sure they don’t cause too much financial burden over time
requires more capital and is seen as risky in a market that is in its infancy. That’s especially
true for large projects serving the utility market.
In the recently completed project in Maryland, Solar Grid provided financing along with PNC
Bank and Konterra, a real estate developer. The project, which includes solar, batteries and
electric car charging stations, are located at Konterra’s headquarters.
Many energy storage project developers are targeting the East Coast, including in Maryland,
which is served by PJM, a grid operator that has acted quicker than its peers to set up a
payment system for energy storage services. PJM and other grid operators in the country
are complying with a 2011 mandate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to
promote the use of energy storage to help run the electric grid smoothly, especially when
an increasing amount of solar and wind electricity is flowing into the grid.
One of the ways energy storage operators make money is to send bursts of power into the
grid to help the grid run at its needed frequency. Beacon Power and AES Energy are some of
the energy storage companies that are selling those grid-stabilizing services within PJM,
which covers parts or all of 13 states and the Washington, D.C.
California also is gearing up to be an important energy storage market. The state is working
on rules that will require its utilities to use energy storage services to stabilize a grid that will
get a lot more solar and wind power in order to hit its goal to have 33 percent of the
electricity supplies coming from renewable sources. California already is the largest solar
energy market in the country thanks to that renewable energy mandate and incentives that
encourage solar panel installations at homes and businesses.