Hurricanes, batteries and backup power: An interview with Sonnen

pv magazine: What have been the impacts of hurricanes Irma and Harvey on the awareness of backup battery storage?

Blake Richetta: It has impact, we’re already seeing it. We’re already collecting larger orders than we ever anticipated from Puerto Rico and from Florida. Florida is very strong for our distributer CED Greentech. We have different representation in Puerto Rico and they are, unfortunately very cognizant of the need for resiliency in their security, now more than ever.

Christoph Ostermann: I was at the [SPI] booth and there were guys from Texas saying that the hurricanes were a stress test for your system and everything worked great.

Richetta: To be quite honest, we have a very unique position because we actually do stuff and not just talk. There’s so many sonnen systems actually installed and they actually work for backup the way they’re supposed to work, and that’s quite unique. We have more interconnected working systems behind the meter, residential, than any company. It’s very much a testament to what sonnen actually can do: take that German model to the US, and a great product and it’s working. So, we sell every day and our factory can’t build enough.

 

pv magazine: Before SPI, sonnen exhibited at the home automation show CEDIA. This high end market could be a potential market for battery storage in the US?

Richetta: We believe in the very progressive home builder and developer that doesn’t care about laws or metering, they just want to build a bunch of homes or a whole building that is the most cutting edge, amazing place on the vanguard of construction. And we have some real success stories there, that will be announced very soon. An event in November that will be the beginning of sonnen community in the US.

 

pv magazine: So, these are different approaches to market in the US than in Germany? 

Ostermann: The difference is not a fundamental difference, it’s just a different phase.

 

pv magazine: Does that impact how you price the products?

Ostermann: The reason why the prices are higher in the US are technological reasons, but for marketing reasons it should make a difference.

Richetta: In the United States they demand backup power, a proper microgrid can be formed once the great outage happens. This is a fundamental for [the consumer] in the US, they love the idea of energy security and having a microgrid, so that adds significant costs.

Ostermann: That’s the difference to Germany, the grid infrastructure is more reliable. We practically have no outages and not many Germany customers are ready to pay premium for it [backup power], so we have it as an option. There are 3-5% taking this option, willing to pay 1000€ for backup power but the rest say: I don’t need that.

 

Interview conducted by Jonathan Gifford