Energy storage is a hot topic in solar these days, and that’s in evidence once again this week at Solar Power International. One of the early players in the area was Outback Power, which started out with a focus on off-grid systems in remote areas. The company has evolved to serve both on-grid and off-grid applications.
At SPI today, Outback announced a new platform that will debut in January: Skybox.
The hybrid energy management and storage platform will work both on-grid and off-grid. It will be available for mainstream residential and light commercial applications.
In the midst of all the hype about storage, what’s significant about this new platform? We stopped by the Outback Power booth, where Marketing Director Mark Cerasuolo filled us in on some of the problems Skybox will solve.
“Skybox is designed to make storage affordable,” he told us. He added, “Customers need two things: a way to charge, and a way to apply power to your needs. The power source could be the grid, and/or it could be renewable energy.” He noted that customers can’t use their current inverters for storage, and that’s where Skybox comes in. Given that many customers erroneously think they can go off-grid with their energy storage systems, the off-grid potential of Skybox could be highly appealing.
Who will use Skybox? It won’t be just anyone, but the platform will be useful for those who are ready to use a higher-voltage energy storage system in conjunction with solar PV. In case you’re thinking about the Tesla Powerwall, that’s exactly the kind of next-generation higher-voltage energy storage system it works with. The all-in-one unit will work directly with the electrical grid and these storage solutions, giving users control of their power consumption and usage.
The company says that Skybox, with its compatibility with these emerging energy storage products, will provide customers the freedom they seek from their existing electrical grid reliance. The platform is designed to work with new or existing commercial and residential installations, as well as emerging products and technologies.
“This new platform from OutBack Power gives people total control of energy management and power consumption in their homes and businesses,” said Drew Zogby, President of Alpha Technologies, OutBack’s parent company. “People are growing more aware of the options available to them, and True Hybrid energy systems are the future. Skybox will allow energy use to be as intelligent and efficient as possible.”
Zogby added, “We applaud Tesla and other leaders bringing a greater level of attention to the energy storage component of the industry that OutBack Power has been instrumental in developing and building for more than a decade. Moving forward, energy storage is a core element of our shared vision. Skybox is a direct response to both the demand for storage and the innovation we’re witnessing throughout the alternative energy sector.”
Another important benefit of Skybox, Cerasuolo said, is that it promotes grid stability, especially important in states like California with growing amounts of solar power. And using this kind of storage can avoid turning on expensive peaker plants that run on fossil fuels. Siting storage in the home or at a business also avoids potential large storage farms, which people don’t like having in their backyards.
Cerasuolo likened the future for these storage systems to what happened with personal computers. Back in the days of mainframes and terminals, no one thought people would want — or even be able to have — a computer in their home. As we know, things changed fast.
How will Skybox make storage more affordable? The price will be divulged at the January debut, so we hope to find out then. But in facilitating high-voltage storage, the platform will enable the new generation of storage systems.
Skybox is compatible with higher-voltage storage solutions between 300 and 500 volts from Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Panasonic and others. It will come to market with all applicable global industry and agency certifications and requirements.