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Mandalay and Sonnen community could be blueprint for future energy grids

Steve Rogerson
October 24, 2017

At this month’s Energy & Environmental Building Alliance conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Mandalay Homes and Sonnen announced a partnership to build clean energy communities in Arizona, establishing a blueprint for the electricity grid of the future.
Arizona-based energy efficient production home building company Mandalay Homes has teamed up with German smart residential energy storage firm Sonnen to launch a carbon neutral community.
Mandalay Homes was recognised with an award from the US Department of Energy (DoE) for its Discovery Home design, which has been specified for the 2900 home Jasper master planned community in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
Each of the smart eco-homes will be capable of communicating with each other to form a hive of systems. The hive acts as an intelligent network of clean energy storage systems that collaborate to form a virtual power plant, that has the capability to interact dynamically with the precise needs of the electricity grid on a day-by-day basis to increase grid efficiency and lower operating costs.
This green building technology will equate to just over 23MWh of energy storage capacity and 11.6MW of power input-output potential for the Sonnen Community. Additionally, each energy storage system in the Jasper community will possess an upgrade capability of up to 16kWh of energy and 8kW of power, based on the needs of the virtual power plant.
Jasper's footprint of stored sunlight energy will be on a scale that is claimed to be never before seen in the world when considering residential energy storage in a single planned community. Mandalay Homes is partnering with property development company Arizona Eco-Development to build the community, which it hopes will serve as the guiding light for future electricity grid innovation – decentralised, decarbonised and digitalised.
"Mandalay and Arizona Eco-Development have partnered to deploy a radical new residential master community design topology including clean energy generation, self-sufficiency and self-consumption via a smart energy storage system in combination with an efficient load profile and a sealed home, all anchored on intelligent grid interaction," said Blake Richetta, Sonnen's senior vice president and head of its US subsidiary. "This master planned Jasper community represents the single most significant innovation in how new homes can contribute to the decarbonisation of our electricity grid. The 2900 homes in which the Sonnen Community will be deployed in Prescott Valley represent a true clean energy revolution, setting a new standard in energy efficient communities that will challenge the status-quo associated with the US electricity grid."
The Discovery Home is a proof-of-concept that has been scientifically tested and validated. The home is focused on calibrating and integrating innovations in home sealing, energy efficient loads and demand control, clean energy generation via solar power, and smart energy storage, all designed to create an intelligent, carbon neutral home. This is said to lead to comfortable living coupled with low energy costs for the homeowner.
The Sonnen Community will seek to flatten the load curve of the community, reduce grid stress and lower carbon footprint. Further, the network of residential clean energy power plants will create a more resilient electricity grid, largely immune to power outages, by relying on thousands of distributed energy resources as opposed to a handful of central power plants.
"A true renewable energy future is not possible for our society, or for any society, without the deployment of distributed energy storage resources that properly manage clean energy production, storage, grid usage and home energy demand in an intelligent way, providing energy independence and true carbon neutral living," said Dave Everson, CEO and founder of Mandalay Homes. "The Mandalay Sonnen Community concept for Jasper, as well as for other Mandalay communities like Wickenburg Ranch and Timber Sky in Flagstaff, serve to inspire leaders in home building to build zero-net-energy homes with solar, energy storage and other energy efficient design concepts, creating the energy efficient home of the future."
The Sonnen energy storage system harnesses excess solar energy generated during the daytime, storing it in a smart battery. Later in the day, when the sun is no longer shining, the system is calibrated to discharge and meet the specific load of the home, running the home on stored sunshine in the evening. This process is known as solar time shifting, and enables homeowners to use the abundant clean energy potential of the sun to power the home, during day and night.
In addition to this simple concept of solar self-consumption, the system will also engage in two key grid load shifts during the course of a 24-hour cycle with the objective of reducing Arizona's carbon footprint and helping to relieve stress from the grid, all while lowering electricity costs for the homeowner.
Essentially, the system will pull energy from the grid, partially charging its batteries, during these two key timeframes. The first load shift will be during the middle of the night (2-5am), pulling otherwise wasted excess energy that is being produced and unused from a nearby nuclear base-load power plant. The second load shift will occur during the early high solar production hours of 10am-2pm. During this late morning and early afternoon timeframe, the electricity grid in Arizona has a tremendous excess of solar generated energy that is pumped into it from thousands of rooftop solar arrays, creating a highly inefficient usage pattern and even negative impact, increasing stress on the grid.
The Sonnen Community in Jasper will act as a giant receptacle for this excess solar generated energy from around the region, taking it off the grid and time shifting it to discharge during a peak period, increasing the effectiveness of solar power throughout the grid. The system will store this cheaper and far cleaner energy from both load shifts and discharge it to flood the morning and evening peak periods.
Offsetting peak periods makes the home fundamentally invisible to the electricity grid during the high cost, high carbon footprint peak usage hours. Northern Arizona is home to an aged coal burning peaker plant, which provides evening peak power for hundreds of thousands of homes throughout Arizona. The objective of this community is to contribute heavily to the decommissioning of this coal peaker plant within the next three years.
"Self-consuming locally harvested sunlight energy, while collaborating with your neighbours and with the grid, to create a clean energy community, represents a transformational design concept for the US homebuilding industry," said Christoph Ostermann, founder of Sonnen. "The large-scale Mandalay Sonnen Community represents an evolution in residential construction in the USA and will forever alter how American builders, utilities and regulators view distributed renewable energy resources on the grid and what it means to build green. No one told Mandalay that they should do this, as no government regulation or subsidy creates a perfect business case for this level of eco-innovation. As such, Mandalay has proven itself as a true agent of change."
The community will represent the first demand response and grid services ready aggregated network of residential energy storage systems, deployed as a standard throughout a master planned construction community in the USA. Sonnen systems deployed by Mandalay will also be able to execute demand control commands using smart home devices. Specifically, it will become the first residential energy storage system that integrates directly with popular home automation systems such as Control 4, combining smart energy storage with smart energy usage including HVAC, lights, shades and other loads, such as a pool pump.
"Mandalay's vision is energy savings without sacrifice," said Geoff Ferrell, chief technology officer at Mandalay Homes. "Therefore, it is imperative to deploy simple load shedding techniques, in a logical and routine fashion, without disrupting everyday comfort and behaviour. Our energy modelling with Sonnen proves that this is possible with existing technology, and therefore is within reach for virtually any US home builder."
Sonnen has deployed a distributed network of energy storage systems in Europe and more recently Australia. The Sonnen Community in Germany acts as both a virtual power plant as well as a peer-to-peer clean energy trading platform.