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Sunrun eyes storage expansion, audit finds sales data controversy 'unfounded'

Sunrun Inc. is ramping up its energy storage business in a bid to squeeze more value out its existing customer base, now equaling more than 1,000 MW, and to enter "whole new markets" for grid services offered by its distributed energy assets, CEO Lynn Jurich said.

Speaking on the residential solar specialist's Aug. 7 earnings call, Jurich highlighted the emerging "monetization opportunities" of aggregating storage-backed solar systems to offer ancillary services, demand response and other services to the grid. Sunrun is seeking to tap this opportunity with its "BrightBox" energy storage system and through its partnership with National Grid plc. A joint subsidiary of the two companies in May secured $202 million in credit facilities after National Grid in January committed $100 million of equity to the partnership to own 200 MW of residential solar assets.

Since launching BrightBox in 2016, Sunrun has received more than 2,000 orders for "the first zero-down solar-plus-storage-as-a-service offering for residential customers," Jurich said. Installations of the product, which relies on lithium ion batteries from LG Chem Ltd., "are ramping nicely in Hawaii and California," she added. "There is also a value proposition for the electric grid at large as these resources can provide energy when and where it is needed most. Because our resources are located where power is consumed, they are at the most valuable locations on the grid and can improve stability through participation and capacity, energy and ancillary service markets."

Sunrun can solve "local imbalances or acute congestion much more cost effectively than investing in centralized resources and transmission and distribution," the CEO said. Although the company is "still in the early phases of exploring monetization options," it estimates grid services "could represent an additional $2,000 or more in net present value, on top of the $7,000 of value per customer today," Jurich added. The company already has secured "grid services opportunities" through a demand response program of PG&E Corp. subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric Co., she said.

Meanwhile, CFO Robert Komin said the company's audit committee has completed an independent review of Sunrun's sales practices after a May 3 article in the Wall Street Journal reported the SEC was probing whether the solar installer was hiding cancellations from investors. "The audit committee completed its inquiry and determined that the claims in the Wall Street Journal report were unfounded," Komin said. "Specifically, the committee concluded that, one, senior management did not instruct employees to hold back or delay the recording of customer cancellations and, two, [sales] representatives did not alter cancellation dates."