Automakers Become Energy Companies

While it’s still relatively early days for putting electric vehicles to work as assets on a changing power grid, home sweet home is emerging as the first battleground for automakers looking to capture market share in the energy storage space.

Take the deal announced this spring between the new standalone outfit Mercedes-Benz Energy Americas and solar panel distributor Vivint Solar, where Mercedes will provide the batteries using the same battery chemistry as the automaker’s cars.

For Vivint Solar COO Brian Christensen, the decision to partner with a company with roots in the car business was easy. He sees a natural fit between Vivint’s focus on residential solar, increasingly in-demand smart home systems and back-up power or storage capacity provided by Mercedes home batteries.

As I look at how industries are evolving, I think there is a really good fit between the automotive industry and the home,” Christensen said in an interview. “Look at what people spend the most money on.

With the Vivint and Mercedes-Benz Energy deal, the companies have partnered to offer home battery systems starting at 2.5 kWh, with the potential to add additional modules up to 20 kWh. Rather than leasing the modules like some residential solar systems, the batteries are purchased up front.

They’re stackable, and that’s the beauty of it,” Christensen said. “A consumer could want a very little amount and pay less for it.

In addition to adding value to a residential solar system by allowing users to store energy and take advantage of time-of-use rates, he said market polling in more than a dozen states revealed a range of motivation among would-be battery buyers.

Of consumers looking to go solar within the next five years, Vivint found that 79 percent were interested in batteries as back-up power sources, 74 percent to help save money, 72 percent to inch closer to utility independence and 67 percent to use renewable power generated during the day at night. Besides, clever homeowners are already buying storage systems.Consumers were already building that bundle of solar plus smart home on their own,” Christensen said.

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