Home microgrids by the kilowatt-hour

A California start-up betting that many more homes will install microgrids (and solar power) if they don't have to make difficult choices to buy and finance the conversion. It handles the logistics and bills customers per kilowatt hour.

Pay the electric bill, and your lights stay on. An energy start-up believes that the surest way to gain customers (and convert them to renewable energy) is simply to replace the power company.

Gen110 serves as an energy concierge for Californians. The company handles the provisioning of equipment and financing for home microgrids, and then bills the customer for their electric use. Electricity is generated at home and rates are guaranteed lower than the local utility, because it pre-qualifies its customers, said CEO Jason Brown.

"Our main goal is protecting customers from transmission and distribution rate hikes. Heavy [electricity] users get hit more," Brown said. Californians are bearing the cost of maintaining the power grid, and a transmission "tax" is raising household energy expenses more so than the cost of generating power, he added.

Microgrids function in much the same as a traditional power grid, and are normally connected to it. The major difference is that a microgrid can function autonomously if the regional grid goes down. A Gen110 customer can always go fully back onto the grid when necessary. Gen110's current microgrid configurations leverage solar power, but it is also examining natural gas fuel cells.

Its partners include Petersen-Dean Roofing, and Sunrun. There are currently over 2,000 customers buying over 10 megawatts of power, and the average customer will save US$50,000 over 20 years, Brown noted. Gen110 is financed by angel investors, but will announce another round soon.

The financing will help pay for its sales force, which engaging in personal selling with prospects. "The consumer is a barrier to [microgrid] adoption. There's a ‘just pay it syndrome'; people don't know what they pay for kilowatt-hour of electricity," Brown said.

"People know cheapest gas in neighborhood, but are oblivious to rate hikes. You can't underestimate consumer behavior as a key barrier to adoption. New technology is scary, and there's confusing financing options. It's obvious why only 150,000 homes with distributed generation systems despite being economically attractive for 1 million homes or more."

An example of how transmission charges have increased markedly. (Image source: Gen110)

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