When Hurricane Maria destroyed the power grid for 80 percent of Puerto Rican citizens, the tiny island of more than three million people was cast into darkness. For many, the lack of a reliable power backup cost them their lives.
Energy insecurity and power outages can often result in the same thing – loss of life. That’s why intelligent energy management systems could become the future of the electrical grid, particularly with the increasing prevalence of climate change-related severe weather events. Incorporating sustainable energy solutions into home planning is an increasingly vital decision for homebuyers.
For Puerto Ricans, solutions were scarce as the island awoke to the realization that all of their major infrastructure had been wiped out in hours. One energy management company, sonnen, knew they could help. Their smart energy management systems are designed to work with traditional power sources and solar energy to keep the essentials running, even in the event of mass grid failure.
Sonnen’s Senior Director of Sales and Marketing Michelle Mapel remembers the moment well: “After Hurricane Maria it took us a few days to reach Pura Energia, one of our key partners on the island, who told us, ‘We’ve got a big problem. We don’t have a grid anymore, so we’re going to need to figure out a way that we can help out.’ In response, sonnen actually installed 12 solar + storage humanitarian microgrids in communities to give them basic power using mini, renewable power plants to do things like get clean water, run some basic refrigeration, power a kitchen where they can cook a few things, just to help sustain basic life and provide some sense of normalcy.”
Basic necessities like clean water and safely stored food are pivotal in an emergency situation. Ensuring that you have enough power to maintain those resources can be a challenge. Intelligent energy management systems, like the new sonnen ecoLinx with energy automation, create a clear interface between the user and their available power. These systems allow the user to know how much power they have, what it can run, and for how long. The user can choose where their energy will be utilized during a grid outage, ensuring they are able to power the devices that are most essential for survival.
Mapel expanded on the ecoLinx’s advanced capabilities, “Beyond smart configurable backup power, energy automation with our ecoLinx takes connected homes and home devices and turns them into even smarter homes where we can layer renewable energy and full energy management. We can help do things like backup the home in the event of a power outage, and give it intelligent backup so it can pick which modes it’s actually going to continue to power depending on how long the power will be out. Additionally, we help manage power use throughout the day by allowing homeowners to intelligently control their energy supply and demand by pre-cooling homes, lowering shades, and dimming the lights to reduce loads in the afternoon before peak energy rates occur.”
All these components communicate with each other to create a safety net, monitoring variables in real-time to prevent homeowners from being caught unaware. Home automation control interfaces like Crestron and Control4 can be seamlessly integrated with sonnen’s energy automation software to create an intuitive interface which the user can operate from their smartphone or from a wall-mounted digital display.
Whole-home communication allows the entire system to work in unison to create an optimal experience for the user. For example, the ecoLinx’s smart weather management system links to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather database forecasting system to predict inclement weather. It then alerts the homeowner and asks if it should increase the amount of stored power in the battery in case of an outage.
Mapel offered this example: “Customers who are in hurricane zones may keep a higher backup buffer; 50-80 percent of the battery may be reserved for a backup situation.” She continued, “If a hurricane is anticipated, there’s a likelihood that your power will go out and you’re not sure for how long. You might tell your system, ‘I just want to power the basics,’ and the home automation system is set up by the installer to know what is covered under ‘the basics.’ Then the home would shut down all the non-essential loads and utilize the batteries and solar system to just power the essentials.” When the storm has passed and the grid regains power, the management software would automatically restore the house to regular service.
Systems like the ecoLinx can also be employed during a power “brownout,” in which the electrical power supply system is disrupted for a short time. In these situations, the system can be set to power the whole house during the duration of the outage. Laptops, lights, refrigerators, stereos, and HVAC can all be powered by the battery system. As long as the user is confident the outage is temporary, they could comfortably use all of their battery reserves to keep the house operating with full power.
The future of the energy grid is likely to be a combination of both renewable power and traditional power sources. Mapel offered this glimpse into the way sonnen sees the grid of tomorrow: “We see an opportunity to enhance the grid, to help utilities use the grid infrastructure more effectively, and also to bring renewables into the picture because we see it as a balance of all kinds of energy sources.”
Enhancing the resiliency of the grid will become increasingly important as climate change becomes a more pressing global concern. That’s why sonnen is working with home developers, such as Mandalay Homes in Arizona, to create connected communities.
According to Mapel, these communities utilize combined intelligent energy storage and solar generation to create clean energy virtual power plants. The community’s needs balance with each other, with some houses using less power, or creating more power, which can then be used as a surplus by the community. Clean energy communities, like Mandalay Homes’ Jasper community, benefit homeowners as well as the utility companies, enabling the grid of the future.
Ultimately, intelligent energy management systems like sonnen’s ecoLinx could change the face of residential energy management, creating more resilient, more sustainable, and safer power options for communities across the globe.