New US housing complex to put Sonnen batteries inside all 600 apartments

Image: The Wasatch Group

An all-electric and solar powered housing complex being developed in the American state of Utah will put a Sonnen battery in all 600 of its apartments, in a deliberate design “statement” that is unlikely to be replicated in Australia any time soon.

The 22-building apartment complex, called Soleil Lofts, is being developed by the Wasatch Group just outside Salt Lake City as both an energy efficient and sustainable “community of the future” and as a virtual power plant that can be tapped by the local utility, Rocky Mountain Power.

It’s a first for Sonnen in the US, where the German-based company has installed plenty of batteries in groups of single-family homes, but never in a such a big cluster that they can be used instead of a fossil fuel-powered “peaker plant” when grid demand is high.

“When there’s excess solar-generated energy produced, instead of just pushing it into the grid right away, it’s going to be shifted and harnessed in the batteries,” Sonnen CEO and chair Blake Richetta said, in comments to Fast Company.

“Rocky Mountain Power will look at that in real time, and every day will constantly be able to say, okay, when can we use this solar?”

This, in itself, is nothing new. It’s also happening in Australia, through a variety of residential solar and battery virtual power plant initiatives such as that backed by the South Australian Liberal government, and in which Sonnen is also a participant.

But what is interesting about the Soleil Lofts project is that the developers made a deliberate decision to put the batteries inside each of the apartments – some of which are pretty small, as you can see in the image below – rather than in dedicated utility rooms.

Image: The Wasatch Group

“We looked at how are we going to be responsible stewards,” said Jarom Johnson, chief operating officer for Wasatch Premier Communities, as quoted in Fast Company.

“We wanted to be able to demonstrate [the impact of the project] in a way that people can say, ‘Hey, I’m proud to take the pledge to live differently for the betterment of the overall society,’” he said.

The result, says Richetta, is “truly a community of the future, where solar and solar batteries are literally built into your life.”

But the placement of the batteries inside the apartments, on the other side of a wall to the refrigerator, is not something that a developer could aspire to do in Australia, under the country’s current installation guidelines.

In Australia – where Sonnen has established a factory in Adelaide, and where it has recently joined with the South Australia government to offer free battery storage to bushfire victims – new battery installation guidelines introdcued by Standards Australia last year that make putting batteries inside homes pretty difficult.

As One Step explained here, the standard means a pre-assembled integrated Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) cannot be installed within 60cm of any exit; within 60cm of any vertical side of a window, or any building ventilation opening to a habitable room; within 60cm of any hot water unit, air conditioning unit or any other appliance not associated with the pre-assembled integrated BESS; or within 90cm below any of the above items.

Further, the standard denotes that battery systems cannot be installed in ceiling spaces; wall cavities; on roofs except where specifically deemed suitable; under stairways; under access walkways; in evacuation or escape routes (such as a hallway); in areas of domestic or residential electrical installations; or in habitable rooms.

Obviously, there are ways around this, particularly for well-designed Greenfield housing developments. But it does seem a shame that Australian builders can’t make the same sort of bold statements about solar and storage being made in Utah.

Meanwhile, the Soleil Lofts complex will also have 104 electric vehicle charging points, which has the potential to add a great deal more more storage capacity via vehicle to home and vehicle to grid technology.

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