The new electric panel combines smart metering capabilities with remote control of energy use in residences, while easing installation of solar, energy storage and EV chargers.
Behind the meter (BTM) resources are increasingly being brought online and several utilities want to capitalize on the trend.
The key, according to Tesla Energy’s former lead on products, is giving customers a simple process to add any distributed energy resources (DER) they want and to give utilities visibility and control of that process.
Arch Rao created Span after leaving Tesla in 2018, and launched a flagship product on Thursday that would incorporate those attributes into a single device — replacing one that exists in every home: the electric panel.
Span’s smart electric panel, designed by a team of former Tesla engineers behind the Powerwall residential battery, would integrate advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) into the panel and allow customers to plug in any number of DERs, from solar panels to battery storage and electric vehicle fast chargers.
“I think Span is another example of energy technology innovation that happens when you allow competition,” Audrey Lee, Sunrun’s vice president of energy services, told Utility Dive.
The company is first deploying its smart panel by partnering with select DER installers and residential battery providers in Hawaii and California, but the product aims to become integral to utility efforts to gain real-time host control of grid-edge assets, Rao told Utility Dive.
As DER installations increase, more utilities will have to think about managing several interconnections, such as solar panels, battery storage, electric vehicle chargers, electric heat pumps and water heaters, according to Josh Castonguay, Green Mountain Power’s chief innovation officer.
“Space in the electric panel in the age of electrification is going to become much, much more of a premium,” he told Utility Dive. “Being able to discretely meter those [resources], even control those — that’s really helpful.”
Working toward a similar vision of grid modernization, states with high distributed generation penetration, like Hawaii and California, have started mandating smart inverters, which are “smart enough to… be listening to voltage and frequency” and provide grid supportive functions by “being a good grid citizen,” Ric O’Connell, executive director at GridLab, told Utility Dive.
Span’s product would allow customers to choose whatever providers they wanted, if they choose to participate in the grid or add their own generation and backup power. Most DER systems currently require their own proprietary inverters.
“One of the things that the Powerwall has as a limitation, if you will, is it is a Tesla-specific device,” Rao said. “We’re essentially building a common interface for batteries like Powerwall,” instead of using a Tesla fleet controls system, which would in turn tie into the utility’s grid interface.