Feature Image for Community battery systems? Yep – if Colorado co-op’s pilot succeeds

Community battery systems? Yep – if Colorado co-op’s pilot succeeds

November 14, 2017

pv magazine logoPhoto: Jerry Marizza, New Business Director, in front of United Power’s first community solar system. Photo courtesy of United Power.

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The idea of community solar has been largely accepted by both the industry and public alike. Could purchasing part of a backup battery system be far behind?

Everyone is aware of the ever-increasing growth of community solar projects, where participants purchase portions of a solar farm’s output for their own home’s use. But now if one Colorado electrical co-op has its way, battery storage won’t be far behind.

United Power, an 82,000 member co-op located just 40 minutes east of Boulder, the epicenter of Colorado’s community solar explosion, is building a 4 MW/16 MWh Tesla Powerpack battery system. When completed, it will at that time be the largest battery-backup system in the state and one of the largest co-op owned systems in the country, according to United.

But United Power, which partnered with project developer SoCore to build the project, is even more excited that the new storage system will be part of its community-battery-storage pilot program.

Like community solar, members of the community will purchase a portion of the battery’s capacity to power their homes during peak hours. In exchange, the participants will lower the demand charges on their monthly electrical bills.

Construction on the project will start in the first quarter of 2018.

“United Power was one of the first utilities in the country to experiment with the ‘community solar’ concept with our Sol Partners program, and now there are community solar projects all over the country,” said Jerry Marizza, United Power’s new business director.  “Community batteries are the next big trend.”

Though the Firestone project is the first United Power community-battery project, several more are planned under the partnership agreement with SoCore.

The concept of community-battery projects has been around for a long time (the earliest citation pv magazine can find is 2013), but most utilities at the time weren’t looking for community-sized battery storage projects. Instead, utilities were opting for much larger systems.

As prices of battery systems have come down, however, smaller utilities — specifically co-ops like United Power — are able to purchase smaller systems to serve smaller groups of customers, which means if it’s pilot program is successful, United Power could be the trendsetter it currently claims it is.

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