Never experience a blackout again. That’s the promise by ElectrIQ Power, a Silicon Valley–based energy-management and data company. And it’s one of many aiming to do for the storage of solar-powered home electricity what Tesla has done for electric vehicles.
Robert Webster, the Vancouver-based president of its Canadian division, told the Georgia Straight by phone that he used to help companies convert to LED, a.k.a. light-emitting diode, systems. At that time, he was tracking the rise of the solar-energy sector, paying particular attention to innovations in the storage of renewable power.
“I came across ElectrIQ Power and started to do my due diligence with these folks and realized they actually do have the most advanced home-energy storage system,” Webster said.
Founded by 28-year-old entrepreneur Chadwick Manning and power-storage veteran Jim Lovewell, ElectrIQ’s stated mission is “to replace the production of carbon-based emissions with sustainable power”.
Over a year ago, Webster signed on to head the company’s Canadian arm. Last year, it won a Tommy Award at the World Entrepreneur Forum in Victoria. It’s also a 2017 TiE50 Winner as one of the world’s most innovative tech startups.
Later this month, ElectrIQ will bring its first system to B.C. to demonstrate how it works. It includes hybrid inverters that integrate AC and DC power. The system stores power from the grid and from solar panels and it can be managed remotely because it has built-in WiFi. It relies on lithium-ion batteries from Panasonic and includes a high-frequency energy meter.
According to Webster, the system costs $18,000 (dealer price) and enables buyers to program how many hours of electricity use they would like in their home after a blackout. If the homeowner also has solar panels generating electricity, it’s feasible to keep power for days while being off the grid.
“Any of those ‘mission critical’ elements are plugged into a subpanel so when the power goes down, those elements are running, like your freezer and your fridge,” he said. “Maybe you want your security system up and running still. Maybe you want your television or your computer station up and running.”
Webster said he has been in discussions with people in Simon Fraser University’s mechatronic systems engineering program. “The intent here is to actually open up a working lab here in Canada and hire developers, most likely out of the Surrey tech hub area.”
David Suzuki links storage to fighting climate change
Meanwhile, a new book by David Suzuki and former Georgia Straight editor Ian Hanington shows how the growing ability to store energy is helping boost the renewable-power sector.
“AllGrid Energy is producing ten-kilowatt-hour solar power batteries to take advantage of Australia’s abundant sunlight and consequential demand for solar panels,” Suzuki and Hanington write in Just Cool It! The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do. “Tesla is also selling its Powerwall home battery systems in Australia.”
Just Cool It! cites a variety of storage systems, including ones using compressed air, hydrogen, flywheels with spinning rotors, and batteries. And the field is getting crowded.
In January Greentech Media staff writer Julian Spector wrote an article headlined “Here’s Every Company That Entered the US Energy Storage Game in 2016”. He cited eight companies. Then commenters mentioned three others that were left off his list.
Webster said that ElectrIQ is focusing on the software-management side of the business and is “product-agnostic”.
“We’re always looking at new hardware to put into the system in order to improve its efficiencies, as well as its capabilities,” he stated.
B.C. Hydro policies don't provide incentives
In the meantime, B.C. Hydro is retaining “postage-stamp rates”. This means the price of electricity remains the same at all hours of the day, regardless of where people live in the province.
Webster, however, expressed confidence that this will eventually change. If B.C. Hydro switches to what’s known as demand-response pricing, it will provide an incentive to homeowners to rely on stored power during peak-usage periods when the Crown utility’s prices might be higher.
Webster acknowledged that the renewable-energy-storage industry would also benefit if B.C. Hydro allowed “feed-in tariffs” for individual homeowners. This would enable people who generate electricity in their residences through renewable means to sell it back into the grid.
Suzuki and other advocates of renewable energy have long advocated feed-in tariffs, and other North American utilities have allowed them.
“The utilities are a strange animal because it’s really fragmented,” Webster said. “Some of them are afraid of it…because they see it as a direct hit to their cash flow.”