Five Questions for Jess Phillips of Auric Energy
Auric Energy is Utah’s largest provider of residential and commercial solar power and energy efficiency products. The company has become the most positively-reviewed provider in the U.S. according to SolarReviews.Com. In a push for cutting-edge technology, Auric recently collaborated in the Soleil Lofts project, located in Herriman, UT. It is the first residential project in the country that combines utility demand management and sustainable energy at scale, and has been described as a “virtual power plant.”
We caught up with Jess Phillips, CEO of Auric Energy, to discuss Soleil Lofts and to learn more about the solar market.
What’s the scope of Auric Energy? In what states do you operate and what’s your mix of residential to commercial business?
JP: In terms of residential business, we are currently operating in five states: Idaho, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah. And we have hopes to expand in the future. In commercial, we currently have projects underway in Nevada, California, and Utah, and we’re bidding on projects nationwide.
As of today, Auric has provided nearly 7,200 residential installations and more than 170 commercial installations. That comes to 10 MW for both residential and commercial, and represents Auric more than doubling from a year ago. We expect continued growth in residential and exponential growth in commercial in 2020.
Auric is a partner in the Soleil Lofts project. What’s the most remarkable aspect about the technical solution you helped develop?
When Soleil is fully built out, it will have 600 apartments, each with a separate Sonnen battery connected to the rooftop solar array. That will yield 13 MW of battery storage.
On the technical level, Rocky Mountain Power can access hundreds of batteries deployed throughout the development as if they were a single storage unit. When needed, Rocky Mountain Power can draw up to 50 percent of the stored power back into the grid – with only a five-second delay. That’s why we call the Soleil development a virtual power plant.
We tested batteries from a dozen different manufacturers before selecting Sonnen. Their technology makes this possible. It’s safe, and it will last. On first glance, Sonnen is twice the cost of competing battery systems. But when you talk about the cost per kilowatt hour over the life of the system, that’s where Sonnen has the most cost-effective solution on the market. Their batteries will last decades, not years.
Now, the power is available for the grid when and where it’s needed, in Herriman, one of the fastest-growing communities in Utah. This project enables Rocky Mountain Power to pursue more solar projects because it’s cost effective.
Sonnen CEO Blake Richetta said, “Utah is a ‘get-it-done’ state.” What’s the most remarkable aspect regarding the collaboration that brought Soleil Lofts to fruition?
In order for Soleil Lofts to be successful, the developer, Dell Loy Hansen of the Wasatch Group, needed the utility, solar, and battery companies to come together to create a sustainable solution. One of the obstacles we faced was the dynamic between all these players.
For one thing, there’s historically been challenges in balancing renewable generation and consumer power load demands. Utility companies value power during times of peak demand and solar delivers power in lower-demand times of day. It can be difficult for utility companies to make the investment. This challenge is seen in California’s utility market every day, where they are paying other states to take their extra power generated by solar during daylight hours or simply sending the excess, unsold energy straight into the ground.
Solar companies also tend to be wary of battery companies. Adding a battery component can almost double the cost of any project, residential or commercial. You don’t want that added cost to jeopardize getting the deal done.
In true Utah fashion, Dell Loy and executives at Rocky Mountain Power – Cindy Crane and Gary Hoogeveen – came together to find a solution and they all committed a lot of engineering resources to this project. The ability to find a well-designed solution that pencils out for Wasatch Group, Auric, Sonnen, and Rocky Mountain Power was remarkable.
We had several conversations through this process, and through listening we learned from Rocky Mountain Power what their biggest obstacles were and where they might have some flexibility. That knowledge helped us all find a solution that worked for all parties. Without the creativity and persistence shown by all the partners and the longevity of the Sonnen batteries, this project would not be what it is today.
What other major commercial projects in Utah has Auric Energy been a part of?
Our biggest project to date was the Rio Tinto Stadium which helps the stadium offset 73 percent of Real Salt Lake’s total annual stadium power needs. Other recent projects have been the Fairbourne Station and the Zions Bank Stadium and Soccer Academy.
Currently, Auric Energy is in collaboration with the Gardner Company working on projects with Adobe, CHG, Pluralsight, and Zagg.
What are the plans to replicate the Soleil Lofts model elsewhere in your markets?
Seven more projects like the Soleil Lofts are next in line, including retrofits of apartment complexes in California. We proved it on the hardest ground - here in Utah - where utility rates are low. We know that virtual power plants will thrive in California.
What is so exciting about this project is what we learned along the way and where it’s going to take us. Other developers and utilities can do this too. Now there’s a blueprint so you don’t have to be a guinea pig.
For more information, read what Forbes wrote about Soleil Lofts here.