Solar+Storage Solutions Touted for Affordable Multifamily

How solar+storage systems can benefit not just affordable housing residents, but also the owners and operators.

Montpelier, Vt.—The nation’s first study focusing on solar+storage systems’ benefits in affordable multifamily housing has concluded that these solutions not only can help vulnerable residents ride out power outages, but that they make financial and operational sense for building owners and operators.

“Resilience for Free: How Solar+Storage Could Protect Multifamily Affordable Housing from Power Outages at Little or No Net Cost” analyzes properties in New York; Chicago; and Washington, D.C., concluding the systems can deliver an economic return, boost power resiliency and safeguard vulnerable residents during power outages caused by Superstorm Sandy-like natural disasters.

The term solar+storage refers to solar power combined with energy storage systems. “It is a system that can be disconnected from the main grid when there’s a power outage and can operate independently from the grid, to power critical loads,” Seth Mullendore, project manager for the Montpelier, Vt.-based Clean Energy Group (CEG), told MHN. As a result, “in an emergency you can provide lighting, elevators, refrigeration, charging for cell phones and water pumping so people on upper floors can get clean, fresh water.”

Solar+storage is a new solution, one primarily pioneered by Tesla, Solar City and other solar energy companies, said study co-author Lewis Milford, CEG president. “What you’re seeing now is the combination [of solar and storage] used to reduce utility bills,” he said. “It’s set up to reduce demand charges on a utility bill, which are high in California and in other parts of the country. But they’re not set up to provide resiliency, to be able to help ride out a storm.

“We’re saying, ’Let’s bend the arc of that trend to provide not only bill reduction but to provide resiliency in the face of an emergency.’ It’s starting in states like Massachusetts and California, where the economics are a little better. They’re putting these solutions in places like schools, community centers, fire stations and police stations, critical settings where people take shelter.”

California has a model encouraging solar storage. As for other incentives that might spur adoption by multifamily owners, CEG urges ensuring incentives are targeted toward the resilience aspect, and not just toward reducing demand charge or congestion in certain geographies. “I would look at smaller incentives geared to building scale and projects, so you wouldn’t need a very large storage system to qualify,” said Robert Sanders, senior finance director, CEG.

Noting that storage is the most important development to impact the evolution of renewable energy in a decade or more, Milford said the future for solar+storage systems is bright. “It solves the intermittency problems resulting from the sun not shining every day,” he said. “Storage is the holy grail of renewable energy. Technology solutions are on the new horizon. These costs will come down in the same dramatic way that solar costs will come down. The costs are the highest they ever will be, and will only get lower. It’s a great time to look at these technologies, at the beginning of the new wave.”