Blue Planet Energy partnered with Habitat for Humanity, NREL, DOE, and Holy Cross Energy to deliver renewable power and homeowner savings to a Habitat for Humanity community in Colorado. This case study details the challenges and solutions associated with implementing a renewable energy system for a Habitat for Humanity community in Colorado.
Buildings and their construction together account for 39 percent of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions annually. Distributed renewable energy resources (DERs), such as solar arrays and energy storage, in homes and commercial buildings, mitigate carbon emissions while providing grid support to utilities as well as critical backup power and electric bill savings to homeowners.In an effort to fast-track the integration of renewable energy into the electric grid, the Department of Energy (DOE) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) decided to partially fund a pilot field deployment at the Basalt Vista affordable housing project in Basalt, Colorado. This project, located 20 miles from Aspen, Colorado, showcases the next generation of grid integration possibilities. Developed in coordination with numerous stakeholders, Basalt Vista will consist of 27 all-electric, net-zero housing units, each outfitted with solar panels, high-efficiency cold-climate heat pumps, and electric vehicle charging stations. So far, four of the units are also outfitted with premium energy storage systems.
In addition to integrating more renewables into the grid, the project provides affordable housing for local teachers and county workers, given lower wages and ever-increasing housing costs in Basalt. The Roaring Fork School District generously donated the land for this project. Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley, the project developer, and the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) initially joined forces on this project to ensure homeowners achieved the greatest savings possible on their utility bill. The project then quickly progressed into a net-zero community.
Holy Cross Energy (HCE), an innovative local cooperative electric utility serving Basalt, knew that the energy storage system would be crucial in this project. HCE sought an energy storage solution that was safe, given that it would be installed in homes; would last for many years, given the affordability focus of this project; and that could easily integrate with any power electronics they decided to use.After researching numerous options for storing the renewable power generated, HCE chose to deploy four Blue Ion 2.0 energy storage solutions from Blue Planet Energy at Basalt Vista. HCE and Sunsense Solar, a local solar+storage installer partner, were both familiar with Blue Planet Energy from its myriad successful Blue Ion 2.0 energy storage solutions installed throughout Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria.“Blue Ion 2.0 was selected because it uses the safest battery chemistry, lithium iron phosphate, and it is modular, scalable, and easy to integrate with a multitude of inverters,” explains Chris Bilby, Research and Programs Engineer with HCE. “Not to mention it’s very aesthetically pleasing and is expected to last for several decades,” Chris adds.These four grid-tied, AC coupled solar+storage systems each consist of one Blue Ion 2.0 for a total of 12 kWh of energy storage, two 10 kW SMA Sunny Boy 5.0 inverters, between 9 and 11 kW of LG solar panels, and a Blue Planet Energy eGauge in order to remotely monitor the energy storage system. After HCE selected the optimal energy storage solutions, they then deployed the Heila Technologies platform with each of these four systems to connect the solar arrays, electric vehicles, water heaters, air sourced heat pumps, and the Blue Ion 2.0 energy storage solutions into self-managed microgrids.
Each solar+storage system performs four primary functions: grid support, by injecting power into the grid during peak events, known as peak load management; optimal power flow (OPF) to minimize homeowners’ bills based on time of use (TOU); self-consumption of solar energy; and critical emergency backup power for homeowners, which is important in remote, wildfire-prone mountain communities such as Basalt. These microgrids can operate fully off-grid for two hours with normal use or for four days as backup power while powering critical loads only.Significantly, these four solar+storage systems can operate independently, with one another, as well as in aggregate, thanks to algorithms developed by the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Network Optimized Distributed Energy Systems (NODES) program. These solar+storage systems represent an autonomous energy grid in which homeowners can exchange energy and services with neighbors, matching generation and demand intelligently and in real-time. Most importantly though, while these systems are autonomous by default, they can also be aggregated, leveraged, and controlled by HCE to coordinate load and generation on the electric grid.
One of the goals of the Basalt Vista project was to provide affordable housing - in terms of both initial purchase price as well as ongoing living costs, to local county workers and teachers in the upper Roaring Fork Valley. Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork, the developer of the project, estimates Basalt Vista homeowners can expect annual savings of $2,000 in utility costs through net metering. According to NREL, the homeowners in Basalt Vista that are equipped with both solar panels and Blue Ion 2.0 energy storage solutions have been able to reduce their electric bills by 20% on average compared to Basalt Vista homeowners who aren’t equipped with energy storage and solar panels. This is because homeowners with energy storage and solar panels are able to realize greater savings through a Time of Use (TOU) plan in which solar energy is generated by the homeowner and stored during times of low utility pricing and consumed during times of higher utility pricing.Thanks to the DOE, NREL, Habitat for Humanity, HCE, solar power, and reliable, long-lasting Blue Ion 2.0 energy storage solutions, the Basalt Vista project has proven that it is possible to increase resilience through grid-integrated DERs, all while saving the utility and the consumer money.