Newsletter: 3 ways your home can tap into the future of energy

Julian is back from the long weekend.

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Hello Canary fans, I’m back from my extra-long weekend. I spent some of it in a desert house near Joshua Tree as temperatures soared past 90 degrees. That got me thinking about the life-preserving properties of an efficient, solar-powered domicile.

Then I returned to find my colleagues publishing on several ways people are turning houses into advanced tools for a cleaner, more efficient grid. I’ve summarized the key takeaways below.

I also learned that we’ve got a new roster of sustaining sponsors who support the work we do at Canary Media. As the site notes, Sustaining sponsors send a message to the world that nonprofit journalism matters as we confront the climate crisis.” And they enable us to deliver the news without a thick layer of pop-ups and banner ads accosting your eyeballs. I, for one, appreciate the clean aesthetic.

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Heat pumps for the people

Heat pumps can beat the efficiency of traditional home heating by 50 percent. A new pilot study out of Ireland suggests they can also operate as grid assets, Emma reports.

Since heat pumps can store hot water for later, it’s possible to adjust their operations to support broader grid objectives. In Ireland, that means shifting operations to times with higher renewable production and lower electricity prices. The test showed savings for customers based on this grid-responsive scheduling, as well as lowered carbon emissions.

That’s useful data for Ireland, which wants to install 600,000 home heat pumps by 2030 as part of its climate strategy. But the principle applies far more broadly than that.

Energy fortress or energy marketplace?

I followed up on Ford’s game-changing electric F-150 reveal to figure out what it means for the backup power market.

We’ve chronicled numerous companies that sell relatively expensive, relatively small battery packs to homeowners who want backup power. It’s a rapidly growing market, though still reaching around 4,500 customers a month as of January, according to research firm Wood Mackenzie.

Now Ford’s offering a much more powerful home backup service as a basic feature of its electric pickup truck. The only extra cost is a still-undetermined installation fee for the backup charging equipment.

At first glance that would spell trouble for the home battery companies that staked their fortunes on providing backup power. 

But the industry insiders I spoke with pointed out a few things:

  • The F-150 can’t do all the things a stationary battery could, like storing daily solar production, dodging expensive electricity rates or participating in programs that pay you to help meet grid demand.
  • Some people will want to have a full battery in their truck and a full battery in the house, especially in life-threatening situations that you might want to flee.
  • Ford’s audience is far bigger than the population buying home batteries today. The F-150 could be more of a gateway drug to home energy planning than a source of competition for battery installers.

I see this is a contest between two visions for the home as an energy unit:

  • The fortress: All about protecting home energy supply. 
  • The marketplace: Where energy is bought and sold with the broader grid system for the theoretical benefit of all.

The fortress model is easy to convey, which is why battery companies across the board sell based on backup power. Meanwhile, the structures to reward a home’s participation in a broader energy marketplace are both complex and nascent, making it a harder sell in the near term. 

But both offer something attractive relative to the status quo.

Colorado tries to create that energy marketplace

Colorado legislators are trying to smooth out some of the complexities in its nascent distributed energy marketplace. Jeff checked in with state Sen. Steve Fenberg, the author of a bill that is on its way to passage, and reported on how it pushes the envelope.

The bill grapples with some cutting-edge issues, like how to allow for upsizing rooftop solar installations in anticipation of vehicle and building electrification. The policy on the books from the early 2000s limits solar system sizes so that they don’t overburden the grid; that clashes with new visions for electrifying everything.

The bill also addresses the split incentives that discourage solar on rental properties and speeds up grid connection for small solar and battery projects.

There’s a lot of creative, detail-oriented policy in this bill, but you’ll need to check out Jeff’s coverage for the full story.

Julian Spector is senior reporter at Canary Media.