As the costs of solar batteries continue to decline, more and more homeowners are adding energy storage to their solar installations: in California, for instance, one in every twenty solar installations now also includes a solar battery. As utilities become more familiar with the benefits of distributed solar + storage on the grid, from added operational flexibility to decreased electricity demand, several utilities in the Northeast are now offering large incentives for home energy storage pilot programs.
How utility home energy storage pilot programs work
Installing solar and energy storage at your home provide benefits to more than just you and your family. Solar alone provides environmental and economic benefits to society as a whole, while also helping decrease the cost and improve the reliability of the electric grid. Adding storage into the mix pushes these benefits even further, providing utilities with increased operational flexibility, improving the reliability and resiliency of the grid, and helping to shift renewable generation to be available when the grid most needs it.
With that in mind, several utilities offer incentive programs specific to energy storage to help increase the adoption of solar plus storage installations in their service territory. Generally, these utility energy storage pilot programs function as a type of demand response program, where the utility maintains access to home energy storage systems in order to call them into service when electricity prices spike or the grid needs them for reliability reasons.
To achieve that goal, pilot programs take different forms. Some pilot programs result in the utility owning the solar battery installed at a customer’s home, while others allow the homeowner to own the solar battery, providing either rebates or annual production incentives to decrease the cost of ownership. In either case, the utility only requires access to the stored electricity in the battery on a limited number of occasions throughout the year, meaning that you, as a homeowner, are able to use the battery and experience the benefits of solar plus storage throughout the rest of the year.
Utilities offering pilots
As of 2020, the main utilities offering home energy storage pilot programs are located in New England. Depending upon the success of these programs, expect other utilities throughout the rest of the country to begin to offer similar rebates and incentives to increase the adoption of storage in their service territories.
Green Mountain Power
Perhaps the first utility to offer this type of program, Green Mountain Power introduced a pilot program for installing Tesla Powerwalls at their customers’ homes in 2016. The program was originally limited in scale to a few hundred of the utility’s more than 100,000 residential customers. Interestingly, the program did not require that the Powerwall was connected to a solar panel system, rather allowing the Powerwall to recharge from the grid when electricity prices were low. The utility and Tesla developed software to ensure that the batteries maintained enough stored energy to keep a customer’s lights on when a severe storm was forecast, ensuring homeowners received the biggest benefit from storage.
Overall, the program was a resounding success. During one peak event in the summer of 2018 alone, the pilot program saved Green Mountain Power half a million dollars, before then keeping customers’ lights on during a severe winter storm later that year. In fact, the pilot program was so successful that Green Mountain Power is now expanding the pilot to a full “Resilient Home” program, which will examine the ability of storage to completely remove the need for a standard electric meter.
Following the success of their neighbor’s home energy storage pilot program, New Hampshire’s Liberty Utilities received approval for a home battery storage pilot at the beginning of 2019. In the case of this pilot program, Liberty Utilities owns the batteries, and customers pay $50 per month (or slightly under $5,000 upfront) to participate in the program and receive access to the stored energy when the utility doesn’t need it.
In an innovative twist on the Green Mountain Power pilot program, the Liberty Utilities home energy storage pilot program places these customers on time-of-use rates, which price electricity at different levels throughout the day based upon how much it costs to produce electricity during those time periods. Installing a battery will allow consumers to store energy from the grid at times when prices are low, and use the batteries to power their homes at times when prices are higher.
In line with their other customer-centric demand response programs, National Grid launched a battery storage pilot program as a part of their ConnectedSolutions program during the summer of 2019. The pilot program allows participation from batteries from four approved vendors: Pika, Sunrun (an LG Chem battery), Tesla and SolarEdge.
Unlike the program model of Green Mountain Power and Liberty Utilities, National Grid’s pilot program is an ownership model that pays customers a performance incentive as opposed to a rebate. As a participating customer, solar plus storage owners in Massachusetts and Rhode Island receive annual payments on a dollars per kilowatt basis to allow National Grid to dip into the battery during a limited number of events during both the summer and winter, which helps to lower prices on the electric grid as a whole. The system is designed to provide enough incentive payments to pay for the battery in about 5 years.
Similarly to National Grid, Eversource in Massachusetts launched a home energy storage as a demand response pilot program during the summer of 2019. In both instances, the program is run with funds through the state’s energy efficiency programs, which were expanded to allow for the participation of new technologies–like solar batteries–in 2018.
Eversource’s program, also a part of their own ConnectedSolutions demand response program, functions a very similar design to National Grid’s, with customer ownership, a limited number of events per year, and a pay-for-performance incentive program.
See if solar plus storage is right for you
Even if your utility isn’t (yet) included in the list above, installing a solar plus storage system may be right for you. Check out EnergySage’s Solar Calculator to see how much solar alone can save you, and register for the EnergySage Marketplace to receive quotes for solar (and solar plus storage) from local solar companies licensed to install these devices.