At the lower end, “our typical customer is someone who would have gone to Home Depot or Lowe’s for a generator to prepare for a power outage,” says SolarMax’s Guthrie Raimondo. SolarMax offers a solar backup-only system called Flex, conceived as an alternative to gas-powered backup generators. “Flex’s up-front costs are higher, but you get a full ten-year warranty and there’s less maintenance. And in a long-term outage, you may have trouble refueling a generator. Flex refuels itself as soon as the sun comes back out.” Prices start at $7,000 fully permitted and installed for a 5 kilowatt-hour (kWh) system to provide emergency power to minimal house systems such as a pump, boiler, and Internet modem.
Batteries still have a chance to pay for themselves on a nonemergency basis, even when utilities aren’t directly subsidizing them. In California, utility companies are starting to charge for electricity based on time of day and overall demand, and Orison, a San Diego startup, is promising to deliver a $1,999 freestanding wireless living room speaker next summer that simply plugs into the wall and doubles as a 2.2 kWh storage battery. Orison batteries provide emergency backup, but they are to earn their keep by reducing your electric bill, automatically time-shifting your purchases of energy from the utility company so you power the home from the battery when it would otherwise be expensive, and recharge from the grid when rates are low. Orison founder Eric Clifton even envisions his batteries in city apartments, where there’s little room for one’s own solar panels.
“If we install enough of these,” he says, “summer brownout warnings could be a thing of the past.”
Shown: Orison Tower, $1,999
Home battery systems are usually stashed away in the garage by a licensed electrician. This unit, however, is designed for the living room, and setup is as simple as plugging in to a standard wall outlet. The Tower has 2.2 kWh of backup (expandable to 13.2 kWh), and aims to pay for itself by storing cheaper, off-peak power. Now projected for summer 2018 delivery.