On this episode of the Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast, Dragonfly Energy Stationary Market Manager, Bill Huss, discusses grid-tied battery backup systems. As the grid grows more stressed and less reliable each day, many are searching for peace of mind in reliable backup storage systems. Bill and Dr. Denis Phares chat about the practicality and implementation of these systems.
The Benefits of Backup Battery Systems
As grid outages and brownouts become more common nationwide, more individuals are seeking out alternative power sources. Especially in states that limit the use of generators, many are moving towards battery backup systems and solar power. With these solar battery backups, people can ensure uninterrupted power supply during grid outages, as it enables autonomous power generation and charging of batteries. Dragonfly Energy’s Stationary Market Manager, Bill Huss, has spent 15 years working in energy storage and backup power. His career has been focused on driving innovation that changes the way that we view backup power systems.
In this episode of the Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast, Bill sits down with Dr. Denis Phares to discuss battery backup systems. Their discussion centers on the development of lower-cost, higher-capacity battery storage systems for residential and commercial use. Dragonfly is creating storage systems that prioritize longevity, levelized cost, and safety. Ultimately allowing lithium-based battery backup systems to replace traditional lead-acid battery systems. As the industry continues to evolve, advancements have made systems more integrated, easier to install, and simpler to monitor. Bill and Denis share how developing more affordable and efficient battery storage systems will be essential for the future.
Denis Phares: 00:00
Hi, I’m Denis Phares, welcome to the Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast. And today we have a member of our team at Dragonfly. Billy Huss. Billy, welcome to Li-MITLESS ENERGY.
Bill Huss: 00:25
Denis Phares: 00:26
So, Billy is an important member of the team because his focus is really on grid tied energy storage systems. So, I think I want to go right into it with you. We’re talking about backup systems, you’ve got a backup storage system, and you’re also tied to the grid. Why do you need that?
Bill Huss: 00:48
There’s a few reasons that you could need that. First, I think the biggest market for that right now that we’re seeing is folks that want grid tie with battery backup. So, when the grid goes down, you have brownouts or if there’s the PSPS, power safety shutdowns from PG&E, and SoCal Gas, and you have, you have power to back up on. So, I would say that that’s been our primary market that that’s, that’s been the primary need for battery storage. And then there’s other ways to offset that. There’s time of use. There’s grid first with grid or excuse me, off grid first, and then you can go over onto the grid once you hit a certain state of charge on the battery. So, I would suspect that more folks are going to start relying more on the battery storage side of things and offsetting their generators, because no one wants to deal with the gas. No one wants to deal with the loud generators, and most importantly, California’s banning generators. So, I think it’s a I think it’s a real important necessity for people if they if they want power when these.
Denis Phares: 02:13
So, you’re focusing on California, and California is your home base. But how does this pertain nationally?
Bill Huss: 02:19
Nationally, it’s hit and miss. So, we have states like Texas, where they’ve had some major power shutdowns or brownouts because of weather unsuspectingly. And I would say, if I remember correctly, last time I looked into it, Texas is one of the biggest, they’ve passed up California, for renewable energy solar. And there, also that’s a huge market for battery backup. And then there’s random states, and then just the overall need for folks that they know that it’s available, and they want to start implementing it into their homes.
Denis Phares: 02:59
Right. So, is this a deficiency of the power grid that folks are trying to, is it getting more prevalent that, that folks need to start thinking about battery backup systems more frequently?
Bill Huss: 03:12
I would say yes, the reason why is because California seems to be a leader. In that sense. They start to adopt more of these new technologies, and then it’ll roll out in other states. And I would say that California has been really successful, where permitting, and just the overall implementation of adding battery storage now is a lot more common. Where before, if there was any DC driven application for permitting, it seemed to scare off the inspectors before it’s like, oh, there’s batteries associated with it. We don’t really know what to do. We don’t really deal with this type of power. These are things that were really permitting and now it’s, you see it on houses all over the place. So, I would say that the primary would be the need for the inconsistency of the grid. And then most importantly, like the utility shutdowns to where, you know, the unfortunately the utilities are getting pressed, because of accidents, fires, any kind of, any kind of tragedies that are going on, and now people are having to take it on themselves to find their power. I mean, personally, I mean, we’ve experienced, you know, once or twice a year, power, safety power shutdowns from PG&E. They give us a couple days’ notice. And then our power is gone. And you get it back when they feel it safe.
Denis Phares: 04:55
How long as that usually last.
Bill Huss: 04:58
I think the last one we had was seven days.
Denis Phares: 05:02
Seven Day power shutdown.
Bill Huss: 05:04
Denis Phares: 05:04
Wow. That’s pretty significant. “Yeah.” All right. Well, I can see why that’s becoming so important. Now I take it these systems are primarily lead acid battery systems?
Bill Huss: 05:17
No, I would say. I think a majority of these battery backup systems are, from my experience, lithium based. And mostly power walls, Tesla power walls and LG chems. In I’m hoping that I think we’re in a good position to really offset those companies with what we have.
Denis Phares: 05:44
I agree. So, you know, our focus is on storage, we’re trying to make storage systems that are really focused towards that sort of longevity living out levelized cost, safety. But obviously, lithium is relatively new in this space. Power walls, you know, were something that came out in the last decade previous to that, well, how did this industry evolve? How did it start? How did it evolve to where it is now?
Bill Huss: 06:15
So, I’ve been in this space for almost 15 years. And when I started getting into the residential space, so my background is off grid, battery-based systems integration. Previous to any of the lithium-based stuff, it was more super complicated systems, there was only a couple players in that space, big lead acid battery banks, really, really expensive, really tough to install, really tough to like, monitor or keep a pulse on. And then over the years, it just seemed like, within the last five to 10 years, I would say is like we’ve had these breakthroughs, where the systems are more integrated, where the battery and the inverter really talked to one another. It was easy to store the battery in because, you know, you can only get away with so much lead acid in any significant capacity. So, you know, if you’re wanting to use a mono block-based system, you know, you’ve got a bunch of 12-volt batteries, usually 100 to 160 pounds per battery, and then the shelving forum and or you have these big cabinets outside. So now that the lithiums entered the space, they’ve put them in more of like a wall mount. They’re easier to install the inverters built into the battery bank, I’ve seen load centers built into the systems. So, I imagine that eventually it’s going to just be all in one, you’re gonna have the battery, you’re gonna have the inverter built in, that’s all going to be UL listed. You’re gonna have the load center built in, it’s basically just going to be everything on that you just back feed the whole backup grid, it’s going to be like a 200-amp service back feed the main panel, and that’s that. Before, you’d have to have pigtailed separate load center, they’re just a lot more complicated. Yeah, to isolate those loads. And you had to be really picky on what you powered because you’re limited on capacity.
Denis Phares: 08:48
Can we talk about that load center? What, what are the components? What’s the functionality? What is it need to do?
Bill Huss: 08:54
So, I didn’t touch on everything when we talked about the different types of applications you could use with battery storage, storage associated with it. And that kind of falls back on this. Historically, folks would use a load center so that the hybrid inverter could communicate with the critical loads or the loads in the separate load center, and then it can transfer from the grid, what happens is the grid tie inverter will shut down when AC is not recognized. So, there’s a power outage. The grid tie inverter senses no power, transfers over to the hybrid inverter, and then, depending on the type of application if it’s like a dc coupled system, for example, you would just transfer over to the hybrid inverter. The hybrid inverter would take over that load center and then power those loads and charge the batteries. Charge the batteries and then power the load center. So, it made it way more complicated, now being a fall back on what I was saying about everything integrated into it, basically, it’s just pushing everything right back to that main panel, you don’t have to worry about having only a few key items, your powering your whole home.
Bill Huss: 10:15
I mean, it’s still kind of a sticky conversation, depending on how much capacity you have. I mean, a lot of these plug and play battery backup systems 10 kW, at 400 volts is not a lot of power. I mean, you have to be really selective. I mean, do we, you know, do we want to? Yeah, do we want to have folks powering their whole house on a 10 Kw battery bank, it’s probably not realistic. But that that was another way to limit what people were doing when they go on to their battery. Like, look, you know, you only have so much power, let’s be realistic about if an emergency happens. What do you want to power? And for how long? It’s kind of like that million-dollar question as a solar expert. Those are like the first questions you asked folks, that’s to get realistic about what they want to power now that the cost of batteries are coming down and these are easier to install and inspectors are a lot more friendly about permitting these. We’re seeing larger systems.
Denis Phares: 11:33
So, let’s talk about the interaction with the grid. So, you know that there is some listing requirements for the system for the batteries and for the system, but the utility company is involved. So, there is some interaction between your system and the grid, what needs to, how do they talk? What needs to happen so that the utility company feels comfortable with you having a system that’s tied into their grid.
Bill Huss: 12:01
So unfortunately, a lot of the decision makers are solar experts that are writing these codes at this point. And we’re, we’re trying to get in the middle of that, so we can help educate these folks on a national level. So that, you know, what we’re doing is safe and finding a middle ground. So that safety is first and foremost. And then we can come to an agreement on you know, what listings and what, what standards are, are finalized so that you know we can so we can have a good solution. That’s easy for everyone. Right now, some states have adopted 9540 A for the battery. And then 9540, for the inverter battery setup is the complete system. So that’s basically the only guideline that…
Denis Phares: 13:02
You said, most states, not all states.
Bill Huss: 13:04
Not all states. No, there’s still a handful of states out there that haven’t adopted, and California is a big one. Texas, I can’t hit on every state that’s fully adopted it. But that’s, I have a feeling that that’s going to spread throughout the country, that’s going to be a national standard. So, what my hope is, in that regard, is that they’re going to, they’re going to agree on a UL listing for their inverter, once a battery‘s got the 9540 A listing, they’re going to marry those two together. And it’s going to be all compliant so that you don’t have to have a listing on each inverter that you want to use. Because at some point, there’s going to be so many different inverter companies out there, it’s going to be expensive and not realistic to be able to list a battery with every component. So that’s what I’m hoping to see happen. It’s looking. It’s looking good so far, hopefully, in 2023. That’ll become a standard. And I’m excited about that.
Denis Phares: 14:13
Well, let’s talk about the solar aspect of it. So, when you talk about the grid shutting down now you can have power off your batteries, which is a nominal capacity. Your last outage lasted seven days. So how important is it to have a good solar system and how ubiquitous is battery backup with solar compared to just battery backup?
Bill Huss: 14:36
So, I think solar battery backup is very important, because that gives you the ability to run autonomously when we have these outages. So, what the solar is doing is charging those batteries or, all in all, that solar is putting either power to the load or power to the battery and then we’re able to run off of that. So that’s, that’s a huge part of this is…otherwise we’re back to the generator situation, we have to have a way to charge those batteries back up. Unless we have…it just doesn’t seem realistic to have enough autonomy in your battery or reserve power in that battery bank to be able to offset just a random number of days that we’re going to have an outage for. So, I’m leaning heavily on any integration that I’m a part of, I definitely start with the solar. And then just depending on what the customer needs, like, there are some applications where just a battery-based system makes sense. With no solar, no PV associated with that. For a CPAP, or one or two, just really critical loads, could be life threatening if folks don’t have them, computer equipment, so folks can stay…they are able to work, so they’re able to work during the day. I mean, that seems realistic to me.
Denis Phares: 16:08
Well, I’m personally excited about the prospect of having a lot more solar and battery throughout the grid. Because ultimately what it does is it stabilizes the grid, it stabilizes the grid for everybody. Even if there’s just a large fraction of people that have solar and batteries, it makes it easier for the utility companies to continue to, to keep the grid open. If there’s always energy on the grid. Is that accurate?
Bill Huss: 16:33
I agree. Yeah, I think that the grid is becoming overwhelmed. I have personally worked with some utilities in California over the last 10 years I specialized in, basically solar integration for utilities, that was a huge market I was a part of, and I’ve worked with these folks. And it’s extremely tough for them to do their job, there’s so much red tape, they have to go through so much safety to, to implement any new products or any new technology. So, I think, I think that that’s, that’s a huge part of them being able to focus on monetizing their grid and the infrastructure, which is in California, it’s really behind. So doing that, and then just be able to either offset your time of year or like your time of use or your peak demands, then you can help offset those. I mean, the last time I checked, it was around, it was in the 40 percent range for peak for us. So, I mean, it’s getting to the point where it makes sense to add batteries to your systems.
Denis Phares: 17:57
It’s economical too. Yes, basically. So, what can make the products that exist now better?
Bill Huss: 18:09
I would say ease of use for the end users. Because essentially, those are the folks that are dealing with it. It’s not the contractor,
Denis Phares: 18:21
By ease of use, do you mean installation or just regular usage day after day?
Bill Huss: 18:25
Just regular usage day after day. If we can get just a self-reliant system that basically… that takes care of itself. You don’t have to manage your batteries. You don’t have to maintain them. You know, that’s…Yeah.
Denis Phares: 18:49
So, it’s battery management and maintenance. That is kind of a pain point right now, for folks that have these systems.
Bill Huss: 18:55
I would say um…
Denis Phares: 19:00
Well, I imagine some are better than others.
Bill Huss: 19:01
Some are better than others. So that’s a tough one to hit on. Because like the existing, the Schneiders, the Outbacks, those get really complicated. And I think that those are tough to manage for, and they are getting better, I think that it’s tough to manage for just an everyday user. If there’s any kind of troubleshooting or any maintenance stuff, your system is down, you’re waiting for an experienced technician that’s able to work on that stuff. I think that…I think the biggest pain point is, I don’t think we’ve seen our biggest pain point. I don’t think the battery capacity that’s being delivered, in lot of these battery backup systems is what people think it is. I think 10 kW of battery backups is not realistic for whole home battery backup. So, I think that having a lower cost, higher capacity system to where you can actually power and be comfortable powering the things that you want in off grid mode. I think that that would be a huge one. That’s my main focus right now, getting costs down when working on battery storage for residential and commercial. So that’s, that’s the big one right now. And then just ease of use for the contractors so that they can do more installations and not have to worry about maintenance. We want their phones to not ring on maintenance stuff and just new installs.
Denis Phares: 20:41
Well, that certainly is a part of our mission at Dragonfly, we want to see the cost coming down. And I mean, I personally see a future, as I kind of alluded to, but everybody has a solar system and a battery system. Because ultimately, that will stabilize the grid to the point where the utility company doesn’t have to build another coal plant, they could put, for example, a wind farm or another, you know, solar array, which is cheaper, really cheaper than making a fossil fuel burning plant. So how do you see the future looking in this in this market?
Bill Huss: 21:16
I would say new battery technologies, which we’re on the forefront of safer, cheaper, easier to monitor and maintain. And those are all things that are on our radar, and I’m excited about. So, I would say that those are the… those are the biggest steps into the future of this. So that we can get into these large, large battery storage systems and down, like work our way from the bottom up. Beyond every home, beyond every larger battery backup system and deliver a safe, reliable product.
Denis Phares: 22:00
Well, I’m gonna put you on the spot now. And you know, you are you’ve been in this space a while and you’re knowledgeable. Why are you doing this?
Bill Huss: 22:10
I’m doing this because I’m passionate. You know, I’ve found a spot, I found a career that I can be passionate about it, I love. First of all, I love the buzz around, it’s new and fresh, and people are excited about it. It’s not like a normal, you know, not designing the framing for a home. I’m not putting that down. It’s just people expect that it’s just gonna get done. And it’s not really a topic of conversation. You know, once you’re involved in solar, it’s just, it’s hype and new and people are excited. And I love the idea of having just offsetting…offsetting the grid, bringing reliable power to folks and bringing a safer, clean energy solution to help offset the carbon footprint. I think that that’s a big deal. I have a son, you know, I want, you know, I want it to be a safer place for him. I mean, all in all, that’s really important to me. I think it’s important to our future. And you know, I would just like to see us just be a cleaner environment. All in all.
Denis Phares: 23:35
I appreciate your passion and you know, couldn’t agree more. And I just want to say we love having you on the team.
Bill Huss: 23:41
I love being here. Thank you. Yeah.
Denis Phares: 23:43
Thank you. Thank you, Billy, and thanks for coming on the podcast.
Bill Huss: 23:47
Absolutely. I’m excited to be here. Yeah, I was excited when you asked me, so I appreciate it.
Denis Phares: 23:52
I’d like to thank today’s guests Billy Huss for joining me on The Li-MITLESS ENRGY Podcast. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on any of your favorite podcast platforms.