Tag: "sonnen batterie"

07/16/13

  09:15:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1086 words  
Categories: Solar Events, Ranting, Energy Storage, Intersolar 2013

Intersolar 2013 - The Storage Debate: Poseurs and a Player

We went to Intersolar (IS) wanting to suss out who actually was on track to bring a useful solar energy storage system to market.  We found lots of poseurs and one real player.  Here’s our take.

Only Pretend

You would think that if you worked for a major manufacturer in the solar space as a director of product development you would have an idea of what your product was, and what the target market for it might be.  But when it comes to product developers in the solar storage space that just doesn’t seem to be true.  Or at least that was the impression we were left with after talking to some of the folks in the Storage corner of IS.

Solar Battery

Solar Battery booth at ISTake these guys.  Solar Battery - or Sonnen Batterie as it appeared on CTO Torsten Stiefenhofer’s business card - had the largest booth, and the biggest box (allegedly a product) in the Storage corner.  They also had the strangest attitude of any of the storage folks that we spoke to at the show.

Keep in mind that I approached Herr Stiefenhofer from the perspective of someone who really, really wants to buy his product for my clients.  And he insisted he had an actual working product - over 1,000 sold! - but only in Germany.  Well, when was he bringing a product to the U.S.?  No idea - that was why they were at the show, to get a sense of the potential U.S. market.

Ok, fair enough, but then the conversation turned strange.  Rather than discussing his product’s benefits and features, he was actively hostile about the question of selling here.  It was almost like he had been ordered to be at IS, but clearly thought the whole idea of selling a product in the States was a giant waste of time.  Certainly there are significant logistical issues in bringing a complicated product to market here, and once introduced it has to be supported.  But all of that is apparent - so why the attitude?  Somehow I doubt that we will be purchasing a product from “Solar Battery” any time soon.

Which brings us to KACO.

KACO New Energy

KACO's faux storageKACO has been talking about bringing a solar storage product to market for a long time.  In fact, we wrote about this impressive looking box after Intersolar last year. A year later and there was no product on display, and apparently, still no product coming to these shores.  My conversation with Bill Reaugh, Senior Director of Product Management, left me scratching my head as he seemed to have very little sense of what market he should be targeting or how to get his hands on data to allow him to do so.

He initially suggested that the market was the residential space - and seemed surprised when I pushed back and insisted that the small commercial market was a more realistic segment.  After all, folks in GS-2 that could shift their peak demand so as to get into GS-1 where the full value of a solar power system could be realized would save a bundle using such a system.

“But how big would such a device need to be and how big of a market could that actually be,” he demanded.

Ok, so now I’m supposed to be doing his job for him?  Fine, I’ll play along.

How about this, I suggested.  Contact the California Public Utilities Commission and make a public records act request.  Ask them to give you data about the number of customers that each of the IOUs have on GS-2 (or the equivalent, demand-driven rate structure in PG&E and SDG&E territories)  and their average peak demands.  Analyzing that data would give you some ideas about both product design and market size.

“Interesting,” he said, turning to his colleague in the booth, “Research that.”

You’re welcome.

On Point

By this time I was pretty thoroughly frustrated.  These folks just didn’t seem like they were serious about bringing a product to market anytime soon.  What we need is a U.S. company that actually gets the market and has an intelligent, focused strategy for serving it.  Enter Stem.

Stem

We had come across Stem before when they announced a partnership with SMUD but we had never spoken with anyone from the company. My first hint that things might be different at the Stem booth was the pleasant discovery that the very capable Leesa Lee - formerly of another clever company, Enphase - was there as Stem’s Senior Director of Marketing.  A company that could lure Leesa away from Enphase must be on to something.

Stem data analysisThen Leesa launched into her pitch describing the company’s focus and it was as if she had been listening to my prior conversations.  Stem is all about the commercial space, and the ability to intelligently offset peak demand to maximize the benefit of local power generation.

Here’s how they frame it on their  impressive website:

Vision

Our vision is to bring energy consumption into the 21st century through distributed storage technology. We are an energy technology company that enables businesses to control their electricity expenses and helps the electrical grid to be more efficient in managing peak usage. Our mission is to provide energy customers and providers with a powerful optimization service that responds to their unique consumption and distribution needs.

About Stem

Stem is leading the way to a brighter, more cost-effective energy future. Since 2009, Stem has been analyzing how various types of businesses use electricity and how they are charged for it. We’ve used this information to design a solution that protects companies from unnecessarily high electricity costs without requiring any changes to the way they run their businesses.

In other words, Stem has taken the time to analyze the market and develop a product directed at the needs of that market!  What a concept!

According to Leesa, Stem should be shipping products before the end of the year.  And as further evidence of their understanding of the market, they are putting on a webinar next week on “Using storage to optimize value of PV installations."  Yeah, I think these folks get it.

Of course, there is a difference between having a clear view of your market niche and being able to fill that niche, and the jury is still out on Stem.  But it is awfully refreshing to talk with people who actually seem to understand what it is they are trying to do.  We are looking forward to seeing Stem succeed - oh, and did I mention that they are a U.S. company?  Even better.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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