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JuiceBox Energy storage systems enter marketplace

Firm's CEO describes market edge, warmth for utilities

Rockville, MD (August 21, 2015) – JuiceBox Energy is keenly focused on two things in its race with energy storage system sellers Sonnenbatterie, Sunverge and Tesla: speed to market with its grid-tied energy storage/energy management system and building its bank account, CEO Neil Maguire told Smart Grid Today – the leading independent, daily, professional news journal of the smart grid industry – recentlyin an exclusive interview. Smart Grid Today publisher Modern Markets Intelligence Inc. is sharing the story here, free of charge.

The firm sells its system controller and Samsung lithium-ion battery system for residential installations directly to solar installers.

"These are the guys who advertise in mailers or on TV," Maguire said. "They all have multiple crews – two guys and a van – that are going around doing solar installs.

"Every morning they pick up inverters, panels and conduit before heading to the job site. So, we want to supply the JuiceBox into that model, so when they go out to a jobsite, they have the full kit."

Solar installers are actively selecting which energy storage equipment to offer and are quick to make a selection "within a couple of weeks" vs the months-long process common for such decisions at utilities, Maguire said. "So we have been bringing them in for training in our operation here [at JuiceBox headquarters in Milpitas, Calif], to get them comfortable with the technology and the capabilities it delivers."

Utilities are definitely interested in what could happen if, for example, they were to buy 500 systems, have the control for DR and maybe provide some incentive for customers. "Maybe it is the shared payment model," he said. "It is unclear exactly how they would do it."

In its pursuit of lasting financials, JuiceBox raised $1 million in seed financing last fall and is currently working on its first round of VC funding, Maguire said, noting the round is expected to close this fall.

"The fundraising is all about being able to scale our business faster," he added. "We have demonstrated the technology. We are the first to market on the technology side. We have a very good story that a lot of big solar installers want to rally behind.

"But, as a [two-year-old] startup, the biggest hurdles right now are the questions around scale and bankability: 'How big are you? Can you handle the volumes we would potentially do here?' But all startups face that hurdle. That's what we need to get over."

The first-to-market claim: "According to PG&E, we are the first ones in the United States to deploy a residential system that does peak-shifting/load-shaving and is allowed to export to the grid," Maguire said.

Maguire believes he has figured out how his firm can profit more than it might suffer from Tesla's April announcement of its entry into the energy storage market.

"It actually has been very, very good for us because it brought a lot of visibility to the energy-storage market," he added. "Every solar installer out there has customers asking it about energy storage. And those customers trust the company that did a good job installing solar on their houses, and so they are looking for guidance" on which energy storage system to buy.

JuiceBox trained over 50 solar installers to install its energy storage systems – and the firm considers this approach a better strategy for scaling its operations than hiring a passel of employees. "Installers really like all the detail we provide and the capabilities of the system.

"So now they are offering the JuiceBox as the alternative to the Tesla Powerwall" – which is not yet available for installation, Maguire said. "They are out in the field being the evangelists for JuiceBox."

In contrast to Tesla's still-baking-in-the-oven, 10-KWH, 2-KW technology, JuiceBox in April began installing the first of its 8.6-KWH, 5.5-KW systems for residential renewable energy installations at California's three big IOUs: Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE).

"With PG&E, we have already completed the process. They have interconnected it and we are done," he added. "With SDG&E and SCE, we will be submitting applications for interconnect within the next month."

Powerwall, a residential energy storage project which will be offered through SolarCity, is only DC coupled, meaning it will only work for homes with new solar installations, Maguire said. The JuiceBox system has the option for AC- and DC-coupled configurations – and that opens up the market to the homes on which solar panels are already installed.

JuiceBox has a bidirectional inverter charger on the AC side that lets the solar installers "go to the millions of homes that already have solar installed and couple in without getting on the roof," Maguire said.

His firm sources its lithium-ion batteries from Nexcon Technology in Korea, which uses Samsung cells, he added. JuiceBox developed its own battery management and control system – that Maguire calls the brains of the system – and an out-of-the-box integration with a Schneider Electric inverter and charger.

Schneider helped JuiceBox "develop a very deep understanding of the communication protocol," Maguire said, "so we essentially take over the programming of that and remove that from the installation process."

Tesla is likely JuiceBox's "main competitor" in the US residential market, since Sunverge is intently focused on utilities and the German firm Sonnenbatterie is still exploring entering the US market. Both of those firms' systems cost more than the JuiceBox system, too, he added, though pinning down the price of Tesla's Powerwall system has not been easy.

The JuiceBox system is $9,900 not including the inverter, with "relatively low volume pricing," Maguire said, and he believes his firm will be able to drive it to commodity pricing over the next couple of years. The 2-KW Tesla system costs over $7,000, he added, though the exact price is unclear since users would need to add components for it to work.

"Nobody has seen detail specs on all the parts, which is frustrating for solar installers," he added. "The real comparison should be at the project level. The customer wants energy storage: What is the project cost to put it in at their house?

1-day installation is goal

"We make installation as easy as possible so solar installers can get in and out of there in one day, but they might have to spend two days onsite for the Tesla system," Maguire said. "Ours is a polished process. We train people so they know how to scope the job. It can be a one-day job."

It is anyone's guess whether Tesla is willing to buy some market share and lose some money on its initial units, he added. The publicized price is quite low, he added. "If the Chinese came in with a price like that, we would bring them up on dumping charges."

JuiceBox is trumpeting ease of installation and installer flexibility as it competes with Tesla. The automobile maker is working primarily with SolarCity and JuiceBox is working with about 30 solar installers, Maguire said.

Outside California, Arizona, Hawaii, New Jersey and New York look like good markets for energy storage sales, he added.

New Arizona rules beckon

JuiceBox is working with solar installers in Arizona to configure its energy storage system to address a new rate structure under which utilities will charge customers by the highest 30-minute period of power use/month, rather than primarily by the KWHs used/month. "With the residential energy storage system, we can read and react to those peaks and to go into a discharge, slicing those caps – those peak periods – substantially," Maguire said.

In Hawaii, notoriously high power rates are part of the picture and the other part is that the islands "have maxed out the amount of solar they will allow on the grid in certain places, unless it is coupled with storage."

In New Jersey and New York, utilities are searching for improved grid resiliency. "They have hundreds of homeowners with solar and they were surprised they couldn't use that solar in the weeks that followed Hurricane Sandy, with the grid down."

Utilities' interest in distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) is growing, Maguire said. "On the residential side, the homeowner is getting 'backup power for resiliency and self-consumption' – so they get a value out of it and utilities don't necessarily have to fund the whole thing. Perhaps there is a way utilities can put an incentive out there where the consumer is paying for the majority of it and they get some occasional peak-day access to it."

System linked by cellular

To make its system as flexible as possible, JuiceBox installs a cellular modem on each device – which lets JuiceBox help customers keep up with evolving smart grid standards and tariff rate structures managed by utilities. That modem will also act as a gateway for future aggregated DR markets, via the JuiceBox Energy Network, he added.

"It might not be this year, but two years down the road that there is more clarity on grid needs, and then a program can be constructed where the homeowner who paid for the system gets some financial benefit. Then, I think, everybody wins.

QUOTABLE: We are developing the [energy storage and control] system for the end consumer, for the installer to make it easy to install, but also for the utility. We don't see the utilities as enemies. The grid is fantastic. It's just that we have the ability to make it more resilient and cleaner while putting the customers in charge. – JuiceBox Energy CEO Neil Maguire in an exclusive interview

The big ramp-up in power that needs to take place when people return home from day jobs and turn on all of their appliances – "right as the solar generation is dropping" – is the main utility problem on which energy storage firms like JuiceBox are focused, Maguire said. The situation is commonly referred to as a "duck curve" due to the shape that appears on graphs depicting a big dip in utility generation in the day followed by high demand in the evening.

"That's what we really design our systems to help alleviate."

Should allow 'unrestrained' solar

The systems installed at PG&E let customers shift excess solar from day to evening hours and provide backup power up to 5.5 KWs of continuous household load. That should allow an unrestrained amount of solar be deployed – "if you can store it and use it when you need it," he added.

That mentality will go a long way toward meeting ideals his firm shares with many others in the smart grid industry, Maguire said.

"We must get away from shipping billions of dollars of our hard-earned income over to OPEC every year and having our military responsible for keeping the oil lanes open in the Middle East," Maguire said. "At the same time, we need to cut down on CO2 emissions and improve local air quality."

Both JuiceBox and Tesla are eyeing the C&I market, but those plans are still in the R&D stage, he added.

This story was originally published in Smart Grid Today (http://ow.ly/Rd3dd) August 10, 2015 and has been slightly edited for this format. To read more articles like this one, sign up for a Free Trial to Smart Grid Today.

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Smart Grid Today, the publication of record for the smart grid industry since 2009, delivers daily, unbiased, comprehensive and original reporting on emerging trends, applications and policies driving the modern utility industry. Our signature format features highly concise and easy-to-understand news copy based on trusted reporting, exclusive interviews, informed analysis and strategic insights that our subscribers rely on to succeed every business day. Modern Markets Intelligence Inc publishes Smart Grid Today.

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