By Jason Deign
JuiceBox Energy’s 5.5kW, 8.6kWh lithium-ion storage system might not have the sleek lines of competing products such as Telsa’s Powerwall or Sonnen’s sonnenBatterie, but is gaining followers on ease of installation.
“We’ve got to a point where you really just press a button, after you connect the wires, and it writes all the parameters into the inverter,” said Neil Maguire, chief executive of Milpitas, California-based JuiceBox.
This means solar resellers can install the system with minimal training, Maguire said. “They know they can quote on a job and get their guys in and out in one day,” he said. “We’ve trained over 100 installers now.”
JuiceBox has been seeing rapidly rising demand for its products around the US since it launched last autumn, despite the fact that residential energy storage is still not seen as being economically viable across most of America.
Selling across Southern Nevada
At the beginning of this month, for example, JuiceBox announced a partnership with Bombard Renewable Energy, of Las Vegas, to sell storage systems across Southern Nevada.
The move followed an initial Bombard installation of a JuiceBox energy storage system at a Las Vegas home in January.
In February, meanwhile, JuiceBox inked a distribution deal with Silicon Valley sustainable energy company Simmitri. And in January it unveiled a partnership with Arise Solar, for sales across California’s Central Valley.
The ease of installation means JuiceBox is already considering extending its distribution network to include almost anyone who is a qualified electrician, Maguire said.
Focus on simplicity and reliability
Another option being considered is to sell the system through utility partners. Maguire told Energy Storage Report that JuiceBox had opted early on to focus on simplicity and reliability rather than aesthetics.
“Our background was in battery systems for electric cars,” he said. “There’s a lot of a tendency in Silicon Valley for a big marketing push when somebody finally gets a product to work.
“From an automotive standpoint it’s about never having any product fail. It’s a very different engineering approach.”
Maguire claims Tesla is “really short on details that are helpful to the installer. They’re making a battery pack and that’s really where Tesla stops.”
German vendor Sonnen, meanwhile, has “a more integrated product,” Maguire said. “But the installers have told us that the Sonnen product is more complex to install.
“It has some cool capabilities to do load-level control of different circuits, but at the same time that creates more of a science project at the individual house.”
Setting up inverters automatically
As well as setting up inverters automatically, JuiceBox’s systems come with a mobile phone link that allows inverter configurations to be updated remotely.
The company’s software also allows systems to be aggregated to provide grid services such as demand response, potentially improving the business case for installation.
Even without this, though, Maguire said up to about 20% of the Californian residential solar market could already be interested in installing storage.
That level is set to increase as the balance-of-system costs for storage fall in the near future.
End users currently pay in the region of USD$12,000 for the JuiceBox system, including a $9,900 battery pack with Samsung SDI cells and a 30% Federal tax credit, Schneider Electric inverter, installation, wiring and so on.
Evaluating other component manufacturers
JuiceBox is evaluating the potential to integrate other component manufacturers into its systems, said Maguire, as well as reducing costs by up to 30% this year.
The company is also weighing up entry into markets outside the US, particularly Australia and South Africa, possibly by the fourth quarter of 2016.
Before then it is looking to seek series A investors to supplement its current angel funding. “We’re keeping things pretty tight in the company,” stated Maguire. “We intend to be around for the long haul.”
The company will have its work cut out, however.
Despite JuiceBox’s early success, Tesla, Sonnen and other contenders including Solarwatt are already shipping to residential storage markets much more advanced than the US, such as Australia and Germany.
The experience that energy storage players can acquire in these truly cutthroat markets should not be underestimated. JuiceBox may have come out with all guns blazing, but it faces a long fight ahead.