The German company Sonnenbatterie has launched a trading platform for distributed renewable energy by offering a way for owners of small solar and wind generation capacity to buy and sell power across the utility grid.
The trading system, which will launch in early 2016, is available via subscription to anyone on the German grid. The system will give solar owners an alternative revenue stream when they produce more power than they can use, but the company’s ambition is to establish a virtual alternative to the utility grid. Sonnenbatterie CEO Boris von Bormann calls it the “Airbnb of energy,” with community members trading energy as their needs and grid conditions warrant.
Sonnenbatterie’s platform joins a handful of other programs for trading distributed energy. The Dutch platform Vandebron, for example, has more than 38,000 subscribers. Consumers pay a monthly fee to contract directly with suppliers of clean energy for a set amount of power over a set amount of time. Consumers get to choose their specific energy supplier; producers get to name their price.
Likewise, the U.K.’s Open Utility pairs consumers with producers; in this case, however, it works only with business users. And in the United States, Boston-based Yeloha matches consumers with owners who sell a portion of the power produced by their solar panels to Yeloha subscribers. As with the other systems, the power is fed onto the electricity grid, and the platform provider works with the utility to track and credit the clean energy to both providers and consumers.
Unlike these systems, which connect consumers with producers, Sonnenbatterie’s platform allows members to both purchase and sell electricity—and it will incorporate battery storage, enabling suppliers to store energy from intermittent assets and sell it when the sun’s not shining and the wind’s not blowing.
Offering an easy and efficient way to store, purchase, and transfer electricity from small, renewable generators using the existing utility grid, such trading systems have the potential to solve many of the challenges associated with integrating intermittent, distributed resources onto the grid—and to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy by giving owners a way to make money from electricity they produce but cannot consume.
When members produce more energy than they can use from their solar arrays (or small wind turbines), the trading software combines it into the pool of available energy from which community members with power shortfalls can draw. Consumers pay the generators 25 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s less than consumers pay for power in Germany, which has expensive electricity, but more than Germany’s feed-in tariff pays owners of distributed generation to send that power back onto the grid.
While the Sonnenbatterie system uses a set price, other platforms allow producers to name their price and purchasers to decide what they’re willing to pay. A market-based system that sets the price of electricity based on supply and demand could avoid the problems of net metering (the policy of compensating distributed generators at retail electricity prices for the power they feed back onto the grid). A distributed trading system would give customers the ability to simply sell their power to the highest bidder.
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