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This July, billionaire entrepreneur and Tesla founder Elon Musk revealed phase two of his “Master Plan”, detailing the automotive and energy storage company's intent to purchase SolarCity in a $2.6 billion deal.

The plan, according to Musk, is to unite Tesla and SolarCity's efforts in advancing Tesla's electric and automated line of vehicles, and introduce consumers to the next generation of clean energy generation and storage solutions.

“Tesla’s purchase of Solar City provides the company a unique opportunity to bring to market a whole home solution for clean power generation and consumption,” observes Ben Weir, Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs with CanSIA. “Individuals (or businesses) will be able to generate their own solar electricity, use it during peak times, charge up their Tesla battery, and continue to use that solar electricity during off-peak times, or, simply store it for use during grid outages so they don’t lose power.”

Ambitious though it may be, Musk's “Master Plan” isn't unique in its renewable energy mission. A handful of Canadian utility providers have already embarked on their own clean energy pilot programs which aim to test the viability of solar and energy storage technologies among existing consumers to reduce energy bills, encourage the adoption of renewable energy solutions, and give users greater control over their power usage.

PowerStream's Power House pilot project, for one, launched in September 2015 to test the solar-storage technology usage amongst select residential customers. Now extended until October 2016, the program uses battery storage and emergency management systems (EMS) provided by Sunverge Energy, and sees PowerStream maintain its the fleet of distributed energy assets while operating a “Virtual Power Plant” for its pilot participants.

Elsewhere, Oshawa PUC Energy Services Inc. unveiled its own Solar Energy Storage and Management System (SEMS) pilot program in August 2015. Like PowerStream, it also outfitted a select group of consumers with solar panels, a battery, and inverter to harvest, use, and store solar energy.

“Where Ontario utilities have beat Musk to the punch is certainly in bringing an integrated solar plus storage product to the market. I don’t think there’s any denying that. Our utilities are currently operating these systems on behalf of customers and Musk is still creating the company that will then offer these products.” says Weir.

Yet while Oshawa PUC and PowerStream maintain ownership of the energy system, Musk plans to offer consumers a product which they can either own or lease the system and operate it as they see fit. This is a key difference between the two approaches, and one that could be adopted by Canadian utilities down the road.

“Where Ontario solar and storage companies can learn from Musk is in marketing products like this directly to customers so that customers can control the revenue streams that are created,” suggests Weir, noting, “I think there is a place for both utilities and customers or third-parties in a market like this as they both offer different value propositions. In order to reach larger percentages of adoption and capture the aggregated benefits, however, we will need to see the private sector playing a bigger role in offering integrated solar plus storage products.”

Nevertheless, considering these pilot programs and incoming battery innovations from the likes of Samsung, Panasonic, and LG Chem (not to mention a number of renewable energy start-ups), it's clear Musk is not alone in his ambitions to reduce the world's reliance on fossil fuels. And as his Master Plan takes shape, there's a benefit to taking cues from some of the real-world solar energy initiatives and successes north of the border.


photo: Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media