Swell Update: We are Fighting for Solar Homeowners

by Andrew Meyer
April 1, 2016
Home Battery

In Southern California, we’re in the middle of a battle for the rights of solar homeowners.

Swell Energy isn’t just watching from the sidelines. We’re in the ring, fighting to make sure that California’s energy storage funding isn’t just shared between a handful of big businesses. When residential customers get the same opportunity to receive funding for new energy upgrades, everyone succeeds. If you ask us, that’s worth fighting for.

Who Do We Think We Are?

We’re Swell Energy. If you’re not familiar with us yet, here’s a quick introduction: Swell is a residential energy storage provider based in Venice, California. Our goal is to get top-tier energy storage systems into California homes. We believe providing high quality energy technology to homeowners will bring California closer to its clean energy goals. A big part of this is making sure everyone knows about the awesome benefits of energy storage, as well as the opportunities available to receive state funding to cover the expense of energy upgrades. That’s why we seek to empower homeowners to be part of programs like the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) in California.

What is the SGIP?

The SGIP is California’s biggest way to motivate consumers to use alternative energy sources to generate and store their own electricity. The SGIP was extended through 2019 by California’s governor, Jerry Brown, at the end of last year. California will continue providing $83 million a year to get more technology like wind, waste-to-heat power, gas turbines, biogas, fuel cells, and advanced energy storage like home batteries into the homes and businesses of Californians. In short, the program pays Californians for using certain renewable energy systems, like turbines, and also pays households with energy storage systems, like home batteries. We’re not talking about a few extra pennies, either. The SGIP pays energy storage users over a dollar per watt. This means that home battery owners in California not only enjoy backup power and blackout protection along with lower (or even non-existent) electricity bills… they also get paid.

For projects that are under 30kW, which would include most residential systems, 100% of the incentive is paid up front, easing the cost of renewable energy systems quite a bit for Californians that take advantage of the SGIP. The complete list of eligible projects is as follows:

Wind: $1.02/W

Waste Heat to Power: $1.02/W

Pressure Reduction Turbine: $1.02/W

Internal Combustion Engine (CHP): $0.42/W

Microturbine (CHP): $0.42/W

Gas Turbine (CHP): $0.42/W

Steam Turbine (CHP): $0.42/W

Advanced Energy Storage: $1.31/W

Biogas Adder: $1.31/W

Fuel Cell (CHP or Electric Only): $1.31/W

An additional 20% incentive is available for the installation of eligible Advanced Energy Storage technologies, as long as they come from a California supplier. (If you’re wondering what this could mean for you specifically, let Swell do the math for you.)

The SGIP caps incentive payment at 3MW (which is a ton -- most residential systems max out under 20kWh), but there is no minimum eligibility system size. No matter how small of a renewable energy or energy storage system you’re looking at, you are eligible for money. Free money. After your incentive claim is completed and reviewed, Pacific Gas & Electric issues you a check within 30 days.

In short, the SGIP is awesome, but it hasn’t paid off for individual homeowners… yet. Since we’ve been in the middle of the skyrocketing residential storage market in California, we’ve been able to watch the SGIP drama unfold… and we have not been pleased. Although we believe that residential storage is just as important as other energy storage projects, it’s been hard for homeowners to compete with big-name projects when it comes to SGIP funding. The complicated application process hasn’t helped. Swell has risen up as a residential consumer advocate, working side-by-side with homeowners to navigate the application, and get their name on the list for the coveted SGIP funds. To put it mildly, the results have been frustrating. But we didn’t stop there.

Dear Public Utilities Commission: It’s me, Swell Energy.

Not only were our denied applications for SGIP funding frustrating, they struck us as counter-intuitive to the goal of the program. The program’s focus is to motivate a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in California by providing funding for distributed energy generation and storage (or, smaller power sources that provide and store electricity to be used on-site.) What better way for California to meet their greenhouse gas emission goals than to empower its millions of homeowners? We had to say something. So we got together, and wrote a petition to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Our main proposal was for the Commission to take a look at the current SGIP application options, and consider modifying the process to make sure a solid portion of funding was given to homeowners. To us, this is a no-brainer. The Commission’s Energy Division Staff also submitted a proposal, pointing out that residential ratepayers currently cover about 50% of SGIP costs, but only receive 1% of the program’s benefits (Yes! That’s what we’re talking about!) It’s awesome that California is the country’s leader in commercial behind-the-meter storage, but if the state really wants to reach its green energy goals, the residential market is going to have to keep up. California needs to be invested in homeowners, too, and right now is a perfect time to ramp up that investment.

Since we’ve been actively involved in building up California’s residential energy storage market, we have a pretty good idea where things are headed, and it’s really exciting. We’re anticipating an unprecedented rise in energy storage installations over the next three years. The demand for solar energy storage is growing, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we give the people what they want. This growth is great news for the state of California, too, but we’re counting on the state to pitch in to make it happen. This starts with making SGIP funding available for homeowners.

Here’s what we’re thinking:

Equal funding access for all. Homeowners get the same access to SGIP funding as commercial businesses do (remember, residential ratepayers are already covering 50% of SGIP costs), and a portion of these equal funds be reserved for the energy storage sector. In order to transform the energy storage market, residential energy storage developers like us need to know that SGIP funding is going to be available for our customers. We want the Commission to protect a minimum necessary level of funding for residential projects, even if homeowner applications come in at a slower pace. This plan is a win-win. Homeowners get the funding they deserve to upgrade their energy storage systems, and California’s residential storage market continues to skyrocket, leading the country into a new era of green energy storage.

Our proposal to the CPUC was filed at the beginning of this year, and since then, we have continued to fight for solar-powered homeowners, and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. We’re honored to do the exciting work of rallying around residential customers, empowering each household to super-charge their own home energy system.