sonnen Architect Spotlight on Energy Storage with Habitations, LLC.

By Sarah Dresher, sonnen Specification Manager

Habitations, LLC was founded in 1996 as an exclusive residential design firm focused on renovations and retrofit projects. The principal of the firm and senior project designer, Robert W. Platt, and the project and interior designer of the firm, Aaron M. Baker, sat down with me to discuss discovering a new technology and their latest solar plus storage project.

Habitations LLC logo

Atlanta residential design firm Habitations, LLC

Robert Platt of Habitations, LLC headshot

Robert W. Platt, Principal and Senior Project Designer

Aaron Baker of Habitations, LLC headshot

Aaron M. Baker, Project and Interior Designer

What is most important when working with a manufacturer? What is most important when choosing a new technology?

"Quality, Communication, and Stability."

Robert shared that, as a specifier, Habitations views its role as an advocate for the customer. Customers may not know the complexities of construction, but they understand the end result. The technology must provide value in their day to day and specifiers need to be able to communicate that value by knowing where to go for answers.

"Nobody knows everything. Knowing where to look? That's everything." - R.W. Platt

When and why did you become interested in solar + storage?


“I’ve always been interested in renewable energy. We’ve got to fix the planet, there’s a lot of things we need to do. And now, we are way past needing to do them. Now they are mandates; these are things that must be embraced. We see ourselves as designers — as the frontline of introducing these technologies to the consumer. There’s a big gap between the technologies and the consumer. We are that bridge we show them why it works.”

Recently, Habitations had a client that requested renewable energy, which launched their team on mission to find the solution. On their current project, they are utilizing two sonnen ecoLinx batteries with an Adapt Energy Panel connected to a photovoltaic (solar) system.


In your research process, is there any advice you would give to other architects beginning to look at this solution? 


“Drink! Any kind of good red wine works well. Have a glass when you start doing your research because it really is remarkable. The genre comes across as really advanced, though it is a fragmented industry, as there is a lot of competition, secrecy, and proprietary pride to be dealt with.

Finding answers is the hard part. Are you getting answers or are you getting propaganda? Telling the difference is really tough. Truth be known, sonnen was excellent at bringing answers that had meat; they mattered. It wasn’t a bunch of sunshine."

“Put on your waders, the river is deep.” – R. W. Platt 

"It took almost a year to become comfortable with pulling this together and making it fly. Even now, I am still learning more, and we are seeing more changes in the system.

For the designer, you have to go into far more detail than on any conventional project. You have to calculate and document every single fixture. Generics do not work; you have to be very specific. That is a lot of data. How many units do I need to store enough power to maintain a percentage of these devices for a period of time? How many things am I trying to run for how long in the occurrence of a power failure? There are a lot of moving parts.”
 

How did you pitch this to your client, and how did they react?


That was a hard part. Finding sonnen was a journey. We are so comfortable with what you guys produce for a myriad of reasons, and we are extremely comfortable with the road we didn’t take. We don’t look back.

There are two parts to the solution: the harvesting of the energy from the sun and the storage of the energy. That’s where we came to a problem in presenting it to a client.

Your team provided a very clear comparison between a generator and battery storage, as well as the environmental impact and noise discharge of both, in terms that I could understand, and therefore present to my client for consideration."

Our energy storage solutions can work with or without a generator, and as Robert noted, there are some key differences between ecoLinx and a generator: 

  • Designed to last 20+ years with no maintenance required.
  • Less noise (70 dBA MAX) 
  • Superior power quality (60Hz) and performance
  • Backup power available immediately (<100ms)
  • Dynamically powers loads, with Adapt Energy Panels, allowing homeowners to stretch battery life based on the length of the power outage
  • Eco-friendly, 100% recyclable system

“You must ask the client: ‘What do you want to happen [with regard to an outage]?’ (necessities maintained i.e. selected specialty lighting, refrigeration, heating, etc.). sonnen helped educate us, the architects and designers, as to why the batteries were a better solution than what we were originally looking at. You guys educated us well, which allows us to educate our customers and say, ‘This is why this is what your best option based on what you are looking for.”

If you have a homeowner interested in renewable energy, or an energy storage system, we highly recommend that you begin your design with an understanding what the homeowner is looking to accomplish. Do they simply want a battery backup solution over a generator? Do they want to harvest solar production and use that energy later? Do they want to automate load shedding and power outage preparations? 

When you understand the intent and what is most important to the client, you can get a better understanding of what information is required properly size the capacity of the system to meet the needs of the loads. To support your efforts, sonnen Applications Engineering team, based out of our Tucker, Georgia US headquarters, is available to assist with design consulting to help you deliver on customer expectations.


What made you take the solution to another level with energy automation utilizing the Adapt Energy Panel? 


“We’ve always been very comfortable with gas generators because they are very predictable. The downside is that they require a fuel source, they’re noisy, and there is a ton of discharge.

The severity of a storm determines how much we have to prepare. Adapt (smart weather forecasting) is going to hyper-prepare for events. Adapt will set up the difference between a three-hour operating window versus a ten-hour operating window (dependent upon the projected severity of the weather event) without the owner having to prepare.”

Energy automation is the combination of intelligent energy storage, leading automation platforms, and other green technologies all working effortlessly to create the ability to control your energy consumption. Smart weather forecasting is when a weather event is in the local area, and a grid outage may occur, the automation platform will detect and automatically alert the homeowner, which will activate the ecoLinx to automatically begin charging the battery to increase the backup power reserve. The automation platform can make critical adjustments (e.g. setting the thermostat, lowering shades, closing storm shutters) to make the home comfortable in preparation for a power outage. The Adapt Energy Panel allows the customer can choose an essential energy profile, if the power outage is expected to be for an extended period of time, to preserve battery life. If the power outage is expected to be shorter, the customer can choose a comfort energy profile, where most circuits remain online. This can happen automatically, or with the customer selecting the energy profile appropriate for their circumstance. 

What hurdles did you have to overcome on this project, if any, and how did you overcome them?


“Speaking to us as if we are engineers is the problem. Your side is remarkably technical. We weren’t prepared for the level of detail necessary to build the system. I think the average bear does not get it. For the average bear, they need to learn how to compare your technology, which is very advanced, versus the norm, the norm being typical grid-sourced power for an individual who may or may not have a generator. The level of detail and communication, between us, the storage, and PV, was a real challenge. I know I am going to specify sonnen next time, but I don’t know what PV system I will specify.

How much room do you have to work in? That’s another one. Where are you putting this thing? The sonnen product has got an amazing operating range in terms of temperature. That gave me a lot of latitude on where to put it. But they are big, and they got to have room around them."

“All the designers need to start with storage then go to PV.” – R.W. Platt

Don’t do what we did and go to PV and then wind up with storage, that’s the boo-boo. I don’t care how much solar we harvest, if we can’t store it for use later, it really doesn’t matter how big the solar system is, if it’s wasted. 

The big thing is the industry has gotten way ahead of the market’s ability to consume its complexity. Residential design has the same challenge. According to the AIA handbook of architectural practices, residential construction, specifically, renovation, ranks highest in complexity out of six categories. In a house, not only does it have to function, but it also has to be cost-effective, operationally cost-effective, maintainable, and attractive; you got to be able to hide everything in a much smaller space. People haven’t gotten a grip on that. In ten or fifteen years, sonnen is going to be as common as a washer or dryer. It’s going to be part of the landscape.” 

“[Energy storage] is this generation's microwave.” – A.M. Baker 

Want to learn what energy storage can do for your home? sonnen can match you with an elite partner in your area who can customize the right solution for your unique home. Get in touch

Interested in how you can keep energy top of mind in your designs? Reach out to me directly at s.dresher@sonnen-batterie.com