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In Utah, thousands of homes are powering the stored solar array…

During the hottest days of summer, virtual power plants are popping up everywhere.

Some 4,000 Home batteries helped keep households cool across Vermont during a recent heat wave while saving customers a collective million dollars. Tesla organized a few thousand customers in his home state of California to use their batteries to help with grid emergencies in exchange for cash. This network started in July – and was widely publicized by screenshots of Tesla app users.

But there’s another home battery network that’s helping their owners while helping the grid, and it’s in a place known more for pioneering with wagons than for pioneering climate and energy policy. In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power, the utility that serves most of the state, actively monitors thousands of batteries in customers’ homes, on a daily basis, and pays them directly to help the grid through its program. Wattsmart.

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Rocky Mountain Power’s vision for the program is that all solar customers will also install a battery,” said utility spokesman Brandon Zero. Our goal is to have thousands of customers and hundreds of megawatts signed up to Wattsmart.

That’s a lot of scale for a concept that only recently moved from the energy-futuristic wish list to commercial operation in the territories of a few forward-thinking utilities. Utah’s program is all the more striking because it succeeds in a state with low electricity prices and little political support for the traditional rooftop solar business model. .

Rocky Mountain Power does not offer full retail net metering for households with rooftop solar panels; if households export excess electricity to the grid, they earn less than they would pay to buy that electricity. Utah isn’t shelling out money to encourage rooftop solar adoption like other states do.

The US subsidiary of German home battery company Sonnen has seen an opening in Utah to go beyond conventional solar systems with rooftop and pitch batteries. He found an installation partner in the state called ES Solar which was ready to completely overhaul its sales tactics to emphasize what batteries can do.

The consumer can see this is the solar of the future,” said Blake Richetta, CEO sonnen american affairs. Not [just] a solar panel on your roof, but a solar panel plus a battery, with the utility seeing the value.

Adding a battery allows Utah homeowners to store solar power throughout the day and consume it at night, instead of dumping excess generation on the grid for meager compensation. The batteries also provide backup power during outages. And now, through the Wattsmart program, residential customers can get paid by their utility to allow their batteries to be used to support the grid as part of a virtual power plant.

Cost is the biggest barrier that deters customers from adding a battery to their rooftop solar array. Home battery products usually cost around $ten,000. But the recently extended federal tax credit is shrinking 30 percent. Then, Wattsmart offers an upfront payment of $400 per kilowatt of registered battery capacity, plus an annual participation credit of $15 per kilowatt. A typical 5-kilowatt system earns $2,000 cash when registering and another $75 annually.

Between the tax credit and the Wattsmart payments, a homeowner can get a battery for about half the list price.

With the program, solar alone looks much lower in Utah,” Richetta said.

So far, 3,000 Utah households are participating or in the process of enrolling. It’s not far behind 4,000-person virtual power plant in Vermont, which has been building since 2015. By joining Wattsmart, customers are not isolated from the network; they use their energy assets to help meet the needs of the system, day-to-day, with cheaper, cleaner energy than that pumped out by conventional fossil fuel power plants.

Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion