Homeowners across the United States are affected more than ever by frequent, prolonged power outages thanks to changes in climate and increased electricity demand that utility companies just can’t meet. In response, more and more people are looking to take energy into their own hands by utilizing solar battery storage to keep their lights on when the grid is down.
It’s not just homeowners seeing the benefits of home energy storage, though. Utilities are starting to realize that distributed storage can be a useful tool for the entire grid, not just individual homeowners. As a result, utilities are looking to pay their customers to install batteries and participate in what are called “virtual power plants” – a network of customer-owned batteries that utilities can use when they can’t meet demand on their own.
Utah’s Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) is one of those utilities. In 2019, RMP spearheaded the nation’s first residential virtual power plant project with the Soliel Lofts – a luxury apartment community that includes a battery in every unit that RMP can use when there is stress on the grid. A year later, RMP expanded this idea to all of its customers with the Wattsmart battery program.
Wattsmart participants who install qualified energy storage equipment can receive both upfront and ongoing incentive payments in exchange for giving RMP access to the energy stored within their battery. But how exactly does the program work, and are the incentive payments worth it? Let’s find out.
What is Rocky Mountain Power’s Wattsmart battery program?
Simply put, when you sign up for the Wattsmart battery program, RMP is paying you for the ability to use the energy you have stored in your battery when the utility is struggling to meet power demands. This allows RMP to offer more reliable service to all of their customers by assisting with meeting energy demand and decreasing the number of potential power outages.
What’s in it for you? The incentive payments lower the upfront cost of installing the battery, allowing you to have a source of backup power during a power outage, and it can maximize the amount of green energy you use to power your home.
How often will RMP use your battery? How much energy will be used?
The details of this program are pretty fuzzy. There are no set guidelines anywhere in the program terms of how often RMP will use your battery. The only indication is in the program website’s FAQ section, where it states that RMP could be using your battery daily.
RMP also doesn’t have a clear limit on how much power it’ll leave in your battery. Similar battery programs launched by other utilities, like PG&E and Green Mountain Power, let you choose how much of your battery power you give the utility access to, so you can ensure you have a certain amount left in case of a power outage.
RMP doesn’t give you this ability and doesn’t have a clear limit on how much power they will leave in your battery after they use it. One part of the website says it’ll leave at least 10% charged, while another part says 20%. This means you could end up not having enough energy in your battery if there’s a grid outage, which isn’t ideal.
How much is the Wattsmart battery incentive worth?
The Wattsmart program has a four-year initial term, with an annual renewal option after year four. During the program’s first year, you will earn a one-time upfront enrollment incentive, equal to $400 per kilowatt installed. So, if you installed a battery with a 7 kW power rating, your enrollment incentive would be worth $2,800.
7 kW x $400 per kW enrollment incentive rate = $2,800
For the remaining three years of the program, you will earn an annual bill credit called the participation incentive. The participation incentive is equal to $15 per kW installed. Using the same 7 kW battery as before, your annual participation incentive would be worth $105 each year.