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Wasatch Brings New Energy to Utah Market

solar powered real estate
November 2019

Battery and solar project in collaboration with Rocky Mountain Power dubbed “most transformative program in the country.”

Apartment developer Wasatch’s recent efforts to bring an innovative solution to powering its communities in collaboration with its local utility company and the surrounding area is being heralded by environmental and utility industries.

Located 27 miles south of Salt Lake City, Soleil Lofts, a 600-unit community in Herriman, Utah, is the high point of Wasatch’s years-long effort into sustainability operations.

By partnering with its local utility Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) and Auric Energy, The Wasatch Group was able to deliver a solar-based program that powers all-electric apartments that were engineered to consume 50 percent less energy.

What sets this program apart from many solar-powered real estate projects is that it serves more than just the direct end-user.  For example, typically for a homeowner who installs solar panels on their roof, that power is used only by that owner.

But in each apartment at Soleil Lofts, batteries are included. They store energy that can be used by the resident and accessed by RMP to enhance their infrastructure for the benefit of all customers on the utility’s grid.

One example of how the apartments were designed to consume less energy can be seen in the Air Changes per Hour (ACH) where once there would be between five and 12 air-exchanges per hour per apartment home, the new system limits this to one, Johnson says. Residents also have a 5 percent lower overall energy cost because of the innovative design of the buildings.

Such efficiency is a big step up from Wasatch’s initial efforts about five years ago when its sustainability retrofits were built out to offset common area electric use while maximizing the local utility rebate system.

“Back then, we were just trying to use the rebates to offset as much costs as we could,” Johnson says.

How It Works

Each apartment home comes with efficient appliances and a safe, long-lasting sonnen battery—powered by solar panels on top of all 22 buildings in the community. RMP will manage the batteries as a Virtual Power Plant (VPP) capable of operating as a grid resource. Once fully operational, Soleil Lofts, which is 100 percent powered by electricity, will be the largest residential battery demand response project in the United States.

“In my opinion, this is the most transformative project we’ve worked on in the United States,” sonnen CEO Blake Richetta tells Utility Dive.

That’s coming from a company that has installed more than 45,000 batteries globally and already developed multiple VPPs that combine residential energy systems into grid resources. But Richetta, who took the helm at sonnen earlier this year, says the Utah project stands out for multiple reasons.

“This has never been done,” Richetta says. “Soleil Lofts is a completely purpose-built community, owned by the developer but the utility is completely managing the solar and battery resources.”

Sonnen and RMP credited the developer for its environmental focus.

“If we tried to do this on our own, it wouldn’t have penciled out,” RMP Managing Director Bill Comeau told Utility Dive. “Not for us, or them.”

The Wasatch Group will own the solar array and batteries, while RMP will manage the VPP as a grid resource and will be studying its potential integration into the Western Energy Imbalance Market. More than 600 individual sonnen ecoLinx batteries will be capable of storing 12.6 MWh of energy from a 5.2 MW solar array.

While the VPP is unique, both sonnen and RMP say it represents a solution that can be replicated.

Salt Lake City, like many parts of the country, is struggling to meet housing demand, Johnson says. “What’s great about this program is that it provides housing without adding any carbon particles to the air,” Johnson says.

Some surveys rank Salt Lake City, which sits in a geographic basin, among the 10 worst markets for air quality. That rating is based mostly because of winter climate, when an inversion of atmospheric conditions occurs. Normally, cool air resides above while warm air resides below, so when an inversion occurs, the inversion traps a dense layer of cold air under warm air.

This article was originally published on Utility Dive (www.utilitydive.com). Utility Dive is a daily news publication that provides busy professionals with a bird’s-eye-view of their industry in 60 seconds.