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Color Me Intrigued: Base Power Company

I routinely listen to a handful of podcasts. One of the more recent adds to my routine is Doug Lewin’s Energy Capital Podcast. It’s a little on the civilized side for me, but Doug gets some very good guests. The last episode I heard featured Zach Dell, founder of Base Power Company. I must say that I am intrigued by what they are building. Most especially in the wake of last week’s derecho, which left parts of Houston without power for several days.

Base Power on X1 Carbon Gen12

Base Power Company is a retail electrical energy provider with a potentially novel twist. Their service has two aspects; a flat monthly cost for electrical service, and a 20 kWh home backup battery mated to an 11 kW inverter.

The battery is used to cache power from the grid. In the simplest case, providing whole home backup during an outage.

Further, the company uses the battery to arbitrage the spot rate for electricity. It charges the battery during periods when plentiful wind and solar generation pushes the spot rate for power very low. I’ve read that electricity is almost free when wind and solar is really delivering. When the rate climbs the home can draw on the battery to lower the cost of power.

During periods of peak load, when the spot rate is very high, the company can withdraw power from the battery, feeding it back into the grid. It’s basic “buy-low, sell-high” play that optimizes revenue while acting to balance the grid itself.

Assuming they are able to install enough of these systems, their client base acts a virtual, distributed version of one of the utility scale battery installations. Literally a “virtual power plant.”

These battery installations have become important players in the Texas grid. They offset the fact that wind and solar are variable, reducing the need for natural gas-fired “peaker” plants.

Here’s a link to a very good webinar detailing how VPPs can replace peaker plants.

Looking more closely at Base Power Company, their offer requires the homeowner to pay $2k for the initial battery & inverter installation. That involves a contract that covers the life of the hardware (15 years.) Base Power installs, warranties and services the hardware.

As a practical matter, that $2k is much less than the cost of most of the common backup power solutions. Installed backup generators (Cummins, Kohler, Generac, etc.) start at around $8K installed, more typically around $13-20k. Project cost varies with the size of the generator and the complexity of the installation. Specifically, the amount of natural gas line and electrical work required.

Of course, these approaches are not directly comparable. A whole home battery backup has a limited run-time. In contrast, an installed standby generator can run indefinitely.

A manual transfer solution, such as ours, includes a large portable generator or inverter ($2.5K-ish) connected to the breaker panel via an inlet and interlock ($600.)

At present, their solution does not work with an existing installations of solar panels. They expect it will eventually.

We know from experience that our home draws between 18 and 98 kWh/day. That’s 18 kW/h on a day in March, when outside ambient temperature is close to a comfortable room temperature, so no use of air conditioning or furnace is required.

Energy March 2-2024

The 98 kW/h figure is the highest we’ve ever measured during the peak heat of the Texas summer.

Energy August 20-2023

During a power outage, the 20 kWh Base battery would sustain our home for a period of some handful of hours at best. In a post-hurricane situation we’d expect power to be out for days to weeks. After Hurricane Ike in 2008 it was out for 13 days. On this basis, the Base installation would not replace our backup generator. It would be more like a whole house UPS, keeping everything running through minor outages, until I got the generator setup and running.

There’s a second 12 month contract that covers the electrical service. They say it’s a fixed monthly charge, but it’s not clear what that might be. So, at present it’s not possible to know if we’d be saving money compared to our current provider.

Even so, I’ve signed up to their waiting list. It’ll be interesting to see what we can learn about it. They expect rollout to begin later in 2024.

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