The home of the future, for renters

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We’ve been hearing for many years about the home of the future: homes that are not only energy efficient and automated, but that generate their own power and interact intelligently with the grid.

But for the many Americans who are not in a position to buy a home – whether because such homes are too costly, due to credit problems, or simply because they won’t be where they are long enough – this future has not been accessible.

Until now. In partnership with homebuilder Pearl Homes, sonnen has announced its second sonnenCommunity in the United States in Cortez, Florida, and this time 83% of these homes in the 848-unit development will be rentals.

The homes are expected to be priced in the mid-market range, with Pearl Homes estimating that the average rent will be around $1200 to $1400 per month. This is only modestly above the average in the Tampa Area, which could make this the Tesla Model 3 of smart homes.

“We want to take this technology and get it to the mass market, and this is the best way that we know – to do rental communities,” sonnen’s Senior VP Blake Richetta told pv magazine.

These 720 rental units will follow on an initial wave of 148 homes, which will be for sale, with Pearl Homes estimating that these will be in the $600,000 range.

The homes are not large; at 750 square feet, Richetta describes them as the “opposite of a McMansion.” But what they are is highly intelligent. The new homes will feature an array of devices and services, including rooftop solar, sonnen energy storage systems, smart thermostats, EV chargers and even automated blinds and lights.

All of this will be held together with sonnen’s new energy automation and artificial intelligence software platform, part of its EcoLinx product line, which will both work in concert with Google Home and the Nest thermostat to shape the demand profile of the home in response to energy availability – both from the grid and the PV and battery systems.

Many of the details about how this community will interact with the grid run by utility Florida Power and Light (FPL) are not yet established. sonnen expects the system on these homes to qualify for net metering, and additionally is seeking a special rate structure to take advantage of the community’s unique ability to shape demand and provide power back to the grid, as it accomplished with utility APS for the Mandalay Homes sonnenCommunity in Arizona.

However, sonnen made it clear that it couldn’t wait for the negotiations to wrap up with FPL. Richetta notes that due to the microgrid structure of the community, these home can go off-grid, and initial tests have shown that they are able to supply up to 96% of anticipated power demand. However, that is not the preferred option. “We want to be (FPL’s) partners,” stated Richetta.

Either way, when FPL’s grid goes down, the sonnenCommunity will be able to provide electricity for its residents. In Hurricane-battered Florida, this is hardly an unforeseeable circumstance.

sonnen notes that an important aspect of how this deal came together is the vision of Marshall Gobuty, the president of Pearl Homes. Together the 848 homes will feature 9 megawatt-hours of energy storage and 7.2 MW of power. This might not be enough for larger, less efficient homes, but as Pearl Homes has been recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council as a a leader in building LEED-certified homes, these homes are expected to be highly efficient.

“For years, energy experts have sought an answer to the solar conundrum: how to generate and store enough solar for our homes,” said Marshall Gobuty. “sonnen’s technology in combination with our LEED Platinum home design has changed the equation for the ability to truly optimize smart homes using solar plus storage to the point where we are capable of building sustainable communities that share solar and decarbonize the region, one Pearl Home at a time.”

But the most revolutionary part may be that this a rental community. “This is the first time that we are talking about an aggregation of resources that can provide grid services that are rentals,” notes sonnen’s Richetta. “We are really changing the game here.”