SunPower, Partners Power KB Home’s Solar Microgrid Communities

SunPower Corp., the University of California – Irvine (UCI), Schneider Electric and Southern California Edison (SCE) are collaborating with KB Home as the strategy, research, technology and energy providers for the homebuilder’s newly launched Energy-Smart Connected Communities in Menifee, Calif.

More than 200 all-electric homes will be solar-powered, equipped with individual battery storage and connected to a microgrid powered by a large, shared community battery. These power-outage resistant communities are the first of their kind in the state.

KB Home, SunPower and UCI joined forces to reimagine what a new home community could look like if built to reduce carbon emissions, cut energy costs, and provide new ways of producing reliable and resilient energy. With a $6.65 million Department of Energy (DOE) grant, microgrid design and engineering support from Schneider Electric, and strong collaboration with SCE to ensure a smooth transition between grid and off-grid electricity, these innovative homes are now available to the public.

“SunPower and KB Home have a long-standing history of leading the new home industry with energy innovation and sustainability,” says Matt Brost, vice president of sales for new homes at SunPower. “With this project we are taking a large leap toward creating communities from the ground up that are designed to produce sustainable and affordable energy and resiliency to the impacts of climate change on our grid. We are thrilled to leverage our learnings from this project to influence continued innovation in home building.”

All 219 of the homes in the new Durango and Oak Shade communities comes with a SunPower Equinox solar system designed to achieve net-zero energy, a 13 kWh SunVault Storage battery and more. All homes will be pre-wired with a smart electric vehicle (EV) charger, and some will demonstrate bidirectional charging, which enables an EV to be an additional source of energy for the home during a power outage. EV chargers will be available for purchase at the time of sale.

These communities offer a new vision for how individual homes interact with the electrical grid. Every home, while maintaining its regular service with local utility Southern California Edison, is designed to operate during an outage as part of a self-supporting microgrid, drawing energy from its own SunVault storage system as well as a large community battery. Together, they are designed to support critical loads such as lights, refrigeration and WiFi, as well as additional high-capacity loads like HVAC and domestic hot water. When the sun is shining, individual and community batteries can be continually recharged using excess solar generation until the grid connection returns.

Additional energy services offered by SunPower allow residents to enroll in a virtual power plant (VPP) program through which their battery storage, EV chargers and other flexible loads can automatically dispatch to support the electric grid. Enrolled homeowners may be eligible for compensation for their participation in the program. UCI will also simulate the connected microgrids, analyze data from the VPP program and collaborate with SCE to determine its effectiveness in supporting grid infrastructure.

KB Home is responsible for the design and construction of the energy-smart connected new home communities.

“We are excited to partner with industry and academic leaders to bring these advanced technologies and energy solutions to our homeowners,” says Dan Bridleman, senior vice president of sustainability, technology and strategic sourcing for KB Home. “The new KB homes at Oak Shade and Durango at Shadow Mountain will be the first in California to be equipped with smart technologies, a backup battery and microgrid connectivity. These will provide a self-supporting energy system with a community battery that powers the neighborhood. We look forward to conducting research to measure the energy efficiency and resiliency of our all-new energy-smart connected communities.”

SunPower Corp. conceptualized the project and is the project lead. It will oversee the project partners, provide energy services and technology, and ensure the home energy systems support the microgrid operations. It will also provide solar panels, battery storage and EV charging options for each home.

“This is at the cutting edge of the next generation of home developments,” adds Scott Samuelsen, professor of mechanical, aerospace and environmental engineering at UCI and the co-principal investigator with SunPower. “For homeowners, the digital and connected future and home charging and discharging of electric vehicles will benefit from the enhanced home energy security provided by microgrid technology.”

The Advanced Power and Energy Program (APEP) at the University of California, Irvine will acquire and archive data from microgrid events and conduct research to enhance the technologies deployed in similar applications in the future. It will ensure that the microgrid controller meets the national standards that evolved from prior research conducted by APEP for the DOE using the UCI Microgrid as a platform for both the development and demonstration.

Schneider Electric will be providing home electrical technology, including the smart load panel called the Square D Energy Center and Connected Wiring Devices that integrate and control the distributed energy resources. Additionally, Schneider Electric will design and engineer the community microgrid.

“This project represents the future by evolving the smart home into a smart, sustainable community addressing core energy challenges facing homeowners today, including power resiliency and rising utility costs,” states Richard Korthauer, senior vice president of home and distribution at Schneider Electric. “The new electric future is a home with safe, efficient and reliable power that meets our changing needs, without compromising our cost of living, sustainability goals or comfort.”

Southern California Edison is the utility partner providing new power service to the community, managing the grid, assisting in microgrid engineering, ensuring local utility equipment safely and reliably supports microgrid operations and providing cybersecurity review.

“SCE is pleased to support this innovative community microgrid project, and looks forward to supporting others in the future,” mentions Katie Sloan, SCE’s vice president of customer programs and services. “Microgrids can provide resiliency benefits for our customers and help integrate new grid technologies into new community developments.”

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Author: Michael Bates