Our market research indicates that, out of the people shopping for off-grid systems, 64% want to buy a full system and only 36% want individual parts. 60% want the project to be DIY.
Advantages of an All-in-One Off Grid Energy Storage System
Q&A with Chris Brown, Chief Business Officer | KiloVault
Tell us about yourself and your role with KiloVault.
I’ve been working in the renewable energy field since 2006. Prior to KiloVault, I worked on the solar and storage teams at Kyocera, Panasonic, Stem and Qcells. I also teach solar and storage courses online with Heatspring. I joined the team at KiloVault in 2022 and lead sales, marketing and product development.
What is the KiloVault Uniti EcoFreedom.
KiloVault Uniti EcoFreedom is an all-in-one energy storage system. This is the first product we’re bringing to market that has both the batteries and inverter built in. It is pre-wired and pre-programmed for simple and quick installation. It’ll remove days of install time for professional installers, and possibly weeks for do-it-yourselfers. The EcoFreedom was designed specifically for off-grid applications – cabins, cottages, sheds and even homes, so long as it is not connected to the utility power grid. The Lite version is 5kW and uses KiloVault PLC2100 Advanced Lead Carbon batteries, while the EcoFreedom 5 is 5kW and uses the KiloVault HLX+ 1200 safer lithium iron phosphate (LFP) technology batteries. The EcoFreedom 10 has a 10kW inverter and uses blade style LFP batteries.
What can be run off this system?
We recently released a video where we tested the limits of what you could run on our smallest Uniti EcoFreedom 5 system. The results were impressive to say the least; we had an AC, Microwave, toaster, coffee maker, air compressor and chop saw going at the same time – and this was just utilizing the 5kW unit. The 10kW version can go even higher, as you can imagine. Of course, there are two factors to consider – how much you can run based on the system's power, and how long you can run things for, based on the system's stored energy. The EcoFreedom 5 has 9.6 kWh of usable energy – so if you were to just run some lights, you could go for 80 hours or so. As you add in more loads, like phone, laptop and TV – you’ll need to recharge sooner. Going full out like we did in the video would get you 2-4 hours before needing to recharge with solar or a generator. So if you’re going to be running lots of stuff at once, you're better off with a bigger unit like the EcoFreedom 10, which, if fully loaded, can have over 30kWh of rated energy.
What are the advantages of an All-in-One Off Grid Energy Storage System?
If you’re looking for an off-grid system, with or without solar panels, you want a system that is fast, easy, simple and safe. In the past, if you wanted an off-grid system you would need to buy tons of parts, learn to put them all together and then take the time to wire everything yourself. The EcoFreedom has a bill of materials that’s over 200-line items long – this means if you were going to build an equivalent unit from the ground up, you would need to source those 200 individual components and connect them yourself. We realized that this task was daunting for most people. With over 20 years of working with these types of systems we came up with a single box that one person could assemble in an afternoon. What would have been 40-80 hours of labor is compressed down to a handful, so you can have more time enjoying your system than building it.
Is this a system that is DIY or would one need to use a professional?
The Uniti EcoFreedom was designed specifically for DIY – we know people have been putting in these types of systems at their own homes since at least the 1970’s. Our market research indicates that, out of the people shopping for off-grid systems, 64% want to buy a full system and only 36% want individual parts. 60% want the project to be DIY. So, for these people – the majority of the group – we want to make it easy. We have our technical sales team to help make sure the system issized correctly and pros to pre-wire up the system before it ships. The customer just completes the final touches to get the system working.
As a bit of a sneak peak, we are also soon launching the Uniti Pro, and truth be told, we’ve already sold a few of the Pros. The Pro, like the EcoFreedom, is a pre-wired all-in-one energy storage system, but these units are intended for grid connectivity. The added benefit with the Pro is that it also enables home owners to shift and optimize the cost of their electricity based upon time of use rates with their electric utility company. When you start to get into grid interactive systems, in most cases, you’re going to want the help of an electrician. The thing is, many electricians don’t know how to size and install battery systems and most battery systems on the market today are not available for the homeowner to buy directly. We’re solving both those issues with the Uniti Pro.
How would you help explain to a potential customer the differences between lead acid and Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries and how to decide the right fit for them.
To start off, the first difference is right in the name – lead vs lithium. The elements that make up the battery electrolyte dictate a lot about how the battery will behave both now and over time. While I love to geek out over battery chemistry, I’ll keep this as high level as possible. Lead batteries are the tried-and-true chemistry that we’ve been using and recycling for decades, while lithium is the newcomer that’s really riding the coattails of EVs. Lead batteries are very heavy and big and lithium are much lighter and smaller, as well as more energy dense. Lead batteries are less expensive up front, but have less usable energy and often need to be replaced more quickly. Lithium batteries are more expensive up front, but have more usable energy and last much longer. Lead batteries can work in more extreme temperatures – especially colder temps – while lithium batteries are more temperature sensitive but paradoxically lose less energy capacity at colder temperatures. Lithium batteries also need active, integrated heating elements for installations exposed to freezing temperatures.
I could go on but the bottom line is, if you’re looking for a low upfront cost, are in a very cold environment or don’t plan to use the battery system very often a sealed lead battery could be the right choice. If your battery system will be indoors (or it has the built-in heater’s lithium technology), you have limited space, or are looking for the lowest cost of ownership, lithium batteries could be a good pick.
What are some of the biggest hurdles standing in the way in the growth of energy storage systems like this and how are we overcoming these?
We need a mix of utility scale and distributed renewable energy storage systems. We need to implement these systems extremely quickly in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change, as well as for our national security and economic growth. Utility scale projects are very slow due to the bureaucratic processes around interconnection and permitting. Distributed energy storage systems like the Uniti EcoFreedom and Pro can be installed much more quickly, and in the case of off grid systems, don’t require any utility grid approvals at all.
The biggest hurdles consumers face when it comes to getting an off-grid energy storage system are first, finding a contractor, second, figuring out what system to buy, and third, how to pay for it. A lot of off grid systems are in remote areas, off the beaten path. In these cases, it can be nearly impossible to find a professional installer to put the system in, so these folks turn to a DIY solution. When they start researching it can be overwhelming, with dozens to hundreds of parts needed to build the system. With Uniti EcoFredom, you pick a Lite, a 5 or a 10. You want to add solar? Cool. Do you want 4, 5, 8 or 10 panels? Financing? No problem. We partnered with Affirm to offer 6-24 month payment plans.
We’re constantly talking to our customers, trying to make our products better to overcome whatever hurdles they have. When one person buys a Uniti EcoFreedom, that’s one less generator pumping out CO2. When someone buys a Uniti Pro, that’s one more system pumping out renewable energy into the grid when the grid needs it most.
Are you seeing more interest in off-grid energy storage due to climate change and increases in power outages?
Yes, especially as it pertains to emergency backup storage. Gas generators tend to be costly over time, loud and wasteful, not to mention expensive considering surges in gas prices. With intensifying storms and almost daily extreme weather events, off-grid systems are becoming the ideal option for both off-grid and grid-tied homeowners alike.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag
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