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Saving the sun: Battery manufacturer makes a play for disgruntled solar customers

Even before the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada decided in February to stick with its plan to raise rates and service fees for rooftop-solar customers, those customers had begun to wonder whether the ability to store the excess electricity they generate would provide some relief from — or revenge for, depending who you ask — the new higher per-kilowatt-hour and lower reimbursement rates for excess energy. Until recently, Tesla offered the only real-world option, in the form of its Powerwall, a 6.4 kilowatt-hour (kWh) unit that looks like something you’d buy at the Apple store. But in January, another Silicon Valley company, JuiceBox Energy, brought its 8.6 kWh home solar energy storage system (pictured) to Southern Nevada.

Tuesday evening, March 15, JuiceBox cofounder and vice president of sales Greg Maguire, who has lived in Las Vegas since 2010 and recently had his own rooftop solar system installed, will speak at the March meeting of Solar NV. Desert Companion talked to him beforehand to get a sample of what attendees can expect to hear.

Sponsor Message

Earlier this month, JuiceBox announced a deal with Bombard Renewable Energy to install combined solar panel-battery storage systems in Southern Nevada homes. Do you have agreements with other installers here too?

We’ve done similar deals around the country. This is the first in Nevada, but I’ve trained many different solar installers around Las Vegas.

If I understand the system correctly, energy collected by the rooftop solar array goes straight to the battery, which powers the home so long as the battery charge lasts. Then, when it runs out, the home draws off the public grid. Is that about right?

You’re close. Everybody thinks “battery,” and then they think they’ll take the house off the grid … Ideally, this system will be programmed so that the battery will discharge (power the home) when the energy rate is highest and demand is highest. We’re reducing demand on the grid, increasing consumption of solar energy during peak hours.

How is this related to recent local developments in net metering?

Sponsor Message

With this PUC decision, they made it like, ‘Why would I want to sell any of my energy back to NV Energy?’ People say, ‘I hate NV Energy.’ Well guess what? Everybody hates their utility, but you’re not going to get off the grid. If you have rooftop solar, you can’t opt out of the new net metering rate. The grid is essentially a huge battery, so (with an energy storage system) we’ll be reducing how much energy we pull off of it by using our own.

Did you develop this technology?

My brother and I cofounded the company. I live in Las Vegas; he’s in San Jose. The engineers are in San Jose, and I go back and forth. I’m more sales and marketing.

Will JuiceBox work for people who already have solar panels?

Yes. They have to replace the inverter. Basically, when you have solar panels, you also have an inverter that converts it from DC to AC, which is how the power goes to your house. With the battery, you have to charge and discharge, so you’ll need a bi-directional converter.

Sponsor Message

Will you be doing the low- and no-money-down lease deals that helped rooftop solar proliferate over the last few years?

That’s up to the solar installer, what they have set up. Sometimes, people can buy it outright. Or they can take a loan out on their home to put it in like they do with a swimming pool. The recent PUC decision ran most of the power purchase people out of the state, which I think is a good thing. You will have to come up with the money to pay for this, but essentially, it’s making your power bill tax-free, because with a home equity loan, you can deduct the interest on it.

How much does it cost?

A fair number would be $18,000 retail installed for the battery, but then you wouldn’t need the grid-tied inverter, so you save a little bit on that. We’re also sizing the new installations to minimize pulling energy off the grid during peak hours, so you won’t need as many solar panels (as were typically installed before), which makes the overall cost cheaper. And you’ll get 30 percent back through the federal renewable energy credit.

What’s the life of the battery?

More than 10 years, depending on how often you cycle them. In Nevada, I’ll probably run it every day in the summer, but not the rest of the year when power costs 5 cents a kilowatt hour, so then it will be in backup power mode.

So it’s guaranteed up to 10 years?

Correct.

If I’m still going to be connected to the grid anyway, what’s the point of having solar at all?

If the grid goes down and you just have solar, then your solar doesn’t work. With our system, if the grid goes down, then the battery and the solar work together to power the critical loads. Hurricane Sandy was a big inspiration for us, because we’re from the East Coast. People there didn’t realize their solar wouldn’t work during the day. When the power is down, the utility doesn’t want people turning on their solar and electrocuting the guys working on the lines.

Also, because of time-of-use rates, which are only for net metering customers today, but will eventually be for everyone. The utilities have all that data about usage, and they’re going to apply it. With time-of-use, you really only care about offsetting peak energy usage. The end result is, you’re always going to have some kind of power bill. NV Energy wants that, to maintain some kind of relationship with the customer.

Is there any law you know of that would allow the PUC to apply additional charges to battery storage the way they have done with rooftop solar generation, apparently to discourage it? I mean, you’re still eliminating revenue that they say is needed to fund infrastructure maintenance.

No, storage can only help them because it’s set to discharge during peak energy. We think this is a solar, plus storage, plus energy management solution that makes sense for everyone. They’ll realize that the sun is not going to stop shining, and as long as it does, people will want to take advantage of it by producing their own energy.

Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.