“Peak demand charges.” These words can strike fear into the heart of every brave commercial solar installer on the front lines of building our renewable energy future. Utilities are charging more and more for their customer’s peak energy use, and the commercial solar industry can feel the pain of their clients’ ROI dwindling as peak demand charges become a larger and larger part of their bill. As a result, closing solar deals gets harder, and our sustainability pro’s pipelines begin to dry up.
Many commercial solar installers are turning to energy storage to shave down peaks, as well as for keeping the lights on in case the power goes out.
While energy storage is a great technical solution for peak demand charges, the reality is that storage adds significantly to the solar project’s cost. In many situations, that extra cost creates a less attractive solar project ROI, causing the installer to lose the sale.
So, will demand charges doom commercial solar projects for customers that can’t afford a battery? Not so fast. There is hope.
By strategically controlling the building’s largest electric loads, businesses can cut down their peaks and save huge on demand charges without spending huge money.
With that in mind, here are five strategies for how commercial solar customers can save money on demand charges without installing a battery:
1) Use HVAC when it costs the least
For the majority of businesses, HVAC is the biggest, baddest load in the building. When it is hot in the summer, all the HVAC units come on early in the day before the solar starts producing, and then stay on after the solar production rolls off. Consequently, HVAC demand spikes are pure evil for solar ROI. We like to call them the “energy load devil horns” because of the load graph. See what I mean below:
When the solar carves out the load in the middle of the day, it leaves these devilishly expensive peaks at the beginning and end of the day. To reduce these peaks, pre-condition your building before business starts and when the solar PV is pumping. Then you can taper off the HVAC system as solar production goes down in the afternoon, avoiding those costly spikes.
2) Intelligently manage electric vehicle charging
If your business has invested in electric vehicle chargers, you may have noticed two things:
First, you probably have happy employees and customers enjoying their green vehicles.
Second, the demand charge portion of your utility bill has spiked through the roof.
To avoid EV charger demand peaks, you can add smart controls on your electric vehicle chargers. Intelligent controls make sure that all of the chargers don’t turn on at the same time unnecessarily, avoiding massive peaks by alternating and coordinating charger loads.
3) Control water pumps and water heaters
Similar to the HVAC, no one in a fitness center or a hotel cares when the water pumps and heaters are running. They only care about the pool being comfortably warm and clean when they use it. By controlling water pumps and heaters, and shifting the pumping times to the least costly time to use energy, you can further shave off demand spikes. Of course, this takes a lot of monitoring and manual facility management, but it can be done.
4) Prepare for weather events
What happens when your solar is producing tons of electricity for your bustling business, and a cloud front passes overhead? Your solar stops producing, that’s what. But your business keeps running, spiking need for grid power and causing peak demand charges.
We often say here at Extensible Energy that “One cloud can ruin your whole month.” Fortunately, with smart forecasting and controls, you can prepare for a weather event, and make sure to avoid a costly cloud spike. When you see the weather coming a few hours out, smart controllers can prepare your building by pre-conditioning with the HVAC, or pre-charging the cars and batteries, then dialing the loads back when the weather comes through and the solar stops producing. Once again, it takes some planning and monitoring weather forecasts, but it can save a lot on demand charges.
5) Intelligently control flexible loads
So those are four strategies for reducing peak demand charges, but how do you control all of these loads and forecast for unplanned spikes?
The traditional way to do that is to put smart controls on all flexible loads, then hire an energy management team to monitor, predict, and control your loads continually. But unless you’re Willy Wonka and have a legion of Oompa Loompas running around to pull levers and dials at a moment’s notice when conditions change, this option may be cost-prohibitive and a giant headache.
The modern “solar plus” option is to use demand charge management software like Extensible Energy’s DemandEx. Like virtual Oompa Loompas, our algorithms intelligently and automatically monitor, predict, and control the flexible loads in your building.
The result is that DemandEx hammers down your solar building’s demand peaks without a thought from anyone at your business. By letting DemandEx control your building’s flexible loads, you save thousands on your bill and give Oompa Loompas a well-deserved rest.
To learn more about DemandEx and how it can benefit your solar clients, apply to become an Extensible Plus partner, and learn how DemandEx improves solar project ROI and helps close more solar sales.