A partnership between Powertree Services Inc. and Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Company aims to revolutionize the way multifamily properties view solar power.
The venture focuses on a double dose of renewable energy: Using solar power for electric-vehicle charging and energy-storage stations. The partnership has committed to install the technology at over 100 apartment buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area to date.
The multifamily market, particularly in dense urban areas, is a major opportunity for solar development, says Stacey Reineccius, founder and CEO of Powertree Services.
“To date, 93 percent of solar that’s been sold for residential has gone to single-family homeowners, not renters," he says. "No one has really focused on how to make this work for the property owner, the tenant, and the utility along the way.”
That’s where Powertree Services is unique. The system integrates energy services to provide benefits for multiple parties. Property owners receive additional revenue and clean energy, tenants are offered reduced energy bills and convenient electric-vehicle charging, and utilities benefit through grid stabilization.
“By bringing these things together, we really provide different benefits to a bunch of different stakeholders," says Jon Ethington, senior project manager for Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Company. "It’s a really unique niche opportunity."
There is no cost required for property owners to install Powertree equipment; it’s a turnkey solution that doesn’t require owners to handle system management or maintenance.
Owners receive rent from Powertree for the parking spaces with electric-vehicle (EV) chargers. Tenants can also rent portions of the installed solar panels, with the energy produced from that portion then credited on their electricity bill.
“They get a lower payment and we get a new rent, which is then shared with the building owner,” says Reineccius.
Power generated by the solar panels can be used for the buildings as well as vehicle charging, with Powertree guaranteeing that the cost will never be more than the local utility. Owners can also opt, for a fee, to have the unit’s battery connected to key building systems to provide electricity in the event of a power outage.
Thanks to the battery storage capability and a Wi-Fi connection to the utility, the unit can feed energy back to the grid when it’s not in use.
“EV charging and solar generation impact the grid and it’s a potential challenge for utilities to deal with," says Ethington. "Solar storage is one way to cleanly and safely deal with that response."
The EV chargers can be used by anyone with a Powertree subscription. “It’s a flat-rate unlimited service—think of it as Netflix for fuel,” Reineccius explains. The chargers are designed to be compatible with 100 percent of electric vehicles on the road.
Drivers using a Powertree charging station will not have to pay for parking while charging, another benefit in urban areas where parking can be costly. However, drivers who do not vacate spots after receiving a notification that their vehicle is fully charged incur an overstay fee, which is also split with the property owner, Reineccius says.
Drawing New Residents
In addition to directly generating multiple streams of revenue, the Powertree system is a novel amenity that can help attract green-minded tenants.
Veritas Investments, one of the largest owners of apartment buildings in San Francisco, has seen the benefit that such amenities can provide, and chose to partner with Powertree Solutions for that reason.
“Within the vein of adding amenities, Powertree makes so much sense. There’s no capital outlay required, and we actually get a monthly rent,” says Yat-Pang Au, CEO of Veritas Investments.
The solution is a natural fit for the company, which has been diligent about adding upgrades to increase their property value. “We tend to own classic Victorian buildings with historic architecture. The average building sizes are 30-40 unit complexes, which is typical of the city’s housing stock. One of our challenges was that we have wonderful historic buildings in well-established neighborhoods, but how do we create modern spaces and units that appeal to today’s tenant profile?”
Veritas has invested in modern amenities such as car shares, in-unit laundry, and now Powertree, and has seen ROI from renters looking for updated and eco-conscious living spaces. “We really distinguish ourselves from the competition. It’s a package that a lot of these residents are seeking out— it offers convenience and reflects their values in sustainability,” Au says.