SolarCity to offer utility-scale solar and grid services for utilities

This morning SolarCity announced a suite of new offerings, including utility-scale solar installation, finance and consulting services, dispatchable electricity from energy storage, and grid services including controls for demand response and aggregation of distributed resources.

Thus this move represents a broadening in both offerings and strategic orientation for SolarCity. Like other distributed solar installers the company has been in conflict with utilities in multiple states, but is now courting utilities along with grid operators as customers for these services.

Such a move by SolarCity is not entirely without precedent. The company has built a 12 MW-AC utility-scale solar project for the electric cooperative on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, and is in the process of building another 13 MW-AC plant with integrated battery storage for Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC).

Additionally, today SolarCity announced that it will build 13 MW-AC of solar PV on seven sites along with at least 6 megawatt-hours of energy storage for a cooperative serving multiple municipal utilities in the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts. SolarCity will engineer, install and maintain the battery storage system, which Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative (CMEEC) will be able to control using SolarCity’s proprietary GridLogic software.

SolarCity estimates that its work with utilities represents around 5-10% of its business at present, and declined to state what share it expects in the future. The company expects to work with a variety of module suppliers for its utility-scale offerings.

The company says that the CMEEC deal will be its first capacity services project, an offering under which SolarCity says utilities can more effectively manage peak load and avoid capacity charges than with fossil fuel generation. Again the Kaua’i projects may have been preparation for this move, as SolarCity plans to supply electricity during the evening peak for KIUC.

SolarCity did not name the battery vendor it will use for the Connecticut project, however it previously announced that Tesla would serve as its preferred battery vendor. Tesla founder and CTO Elon Musk is SolarCity’s chair, and Musk’s cousins founded and run SolarCity.

In addition to the utility-scale and capacity services offerings, SolarCity notes that through its GridLogic platform its portfolios of distributed PV can offer a variety of grid services including dynamic capacity, flexible ramping, frequency regulation and voltage and reactive power support, as well as visibility into grid operations. Additionally, when coupled with storage these resources can offer backup power during outages.

The provision of such services from distributed PV is currently being explored through a pilot program that SolarCity is conducting with Southern California Edison.