Solar energy program turns homes into virtual power plants

A pilot program is offering Westchester County homeowners an opportunity to not only generate their own solar energy, but also to store it at home to keep their lights on during power outages.

The program announced by Sustainable Westchester is seeking 200 households in the Con Ed service areas to install rooftop solar panels and a battery system from the Germany-based home energy management company sonnen. It’s estimated that between 12 to 20 panels plus the battery can produce and store up to 50% to 70% of a home’s electricity.

Installation of the solar panels and a lithium ion battery roughly the size of a refrigerator would require an estimated $4,000 to $5,000 upfront payment under a lease option. Homeowners are eligible for up to $5,000 in New York State tax credits when installing a solar photovoltaic system.

Alternatively, customers can choose to purchase the solar plus battery system at their own expense and apply for tax credits.

Savings vary but a minimum of 10% is anticipated on a typical monthly energy bill.

The program, which is named the sonnenCommunity New York Virtual Power Plant, is mostly geared toward single-family homes, although owners of condominiums, townhouses and co-ops may be eligible.

Sonnen, which makes the hardware for the home system, pairs homeowners with local installers.

A home outfitted with sonnen rooftop solar panels and storage battery in the garage.

The system is fully automated and continually monitored. The batteries are certified safety-tested, with the temperature and performance controlled by a built-in management system, according to the company. The battery systems offer a warranty and access to a local certified sonnen contractor to respond to any service needs.

Because the batteries recharge during daylight hours, the system stores enough electricity to keep a home’s necessities such as a home network and refrigerator running during a power outage. The sonnen system offers an alternative to a backup generator, depending on the number of solar panels added in the home, and the amount of backup power required by the customer.

Sonnen, a subsidiary of Shell Renewables and Energy Solutions, has developed similar programs in communities across the United States and Europe.

Sustainable Westchester, the state’s largest community choice aggregator procuring power on behalf of residents and businesses, is a partner in the program, offering clean, locally generated energy at a discounted rate.

“We understand that stand-alone residential solar is not sufficient – a distributed, modernized grid requires controllable, intelligent batteries paired with solar,” Michel Delafontaine, Sustainable Westchester’s director of business development, said in a press release. “What’s more, VPPs are invaluable resources that can replace the dirtiest ‘peaker’ power plants with local renewable energy.”

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