The stage of the US Energy Storage Summit today was the scene of an interesting talk between Tesla’s Vice President of ‘Tesla Energy’, Mateo Jaramillo, and sonnen’s Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Philipp Schröder, who was an executive at Tesla until late 2015. The two companies have been competing in the energy storage space and sonnen was able to hire several managers away from Tesla over the last year.
Now the two executives have shared their respective visions for this relatively new industry over the next decade.
Sonnen, also known as sonnenBatterie, is based in Germany, an important market for energy storage due to its high penetration of renewable energy and distributed energy sources. After hiring Schröder, who at the time was the head of Tesla in Germany, several Tesla managers in the country defected to the energy startup.
Furthermore, sonnen announced earlier this year an $85 million round of financing to support an expansion in the US, and last week it announced the appointment of Blake Richetta, former North American Sales Manager for Tesla Energy, as the company’s new Vice President of Sales in the US.
The company is now directly competing with Tesla’s Powerwall 2 in the residential energy storage market. Its own product is called the sonnenBatterie Eco Compact. We put it against the Powerwall 2 in a price comparison last month and it came to about 3 times more expensive than the Powerwall per kWh.
Schröder briefly addressed Tesla’s price advantage during the summit today, he only said that sonnen is focusing on getting more value out of its home battery packs through more revenue streams.
He also highlighted the fact that sonnen is “battery cell agnostic” and ready to work with anyone having the best technology available. He added that Tesla relies on Panasonic, saying that the company treats batteries as commodities and that it is pushing large utility-scale projects instead of distributed residential projects because they need to sell those batteries.
Jaramillo didn’t dispute that, he instead highlighted the fact that the more energy storage can be deployed, whether it be through residential or utility-scale projects, the better it will be for renewable energy. He compared it to the production of lettuce and how cold storage helped the industry. He said that it wasn’t just refrigerators in homes that contributed, but also cold storage at the production level.
The Tesla executive also said that the company was working with utilities and regulators to expand the market and accelerate deployment. When asked whether he was worried about the new Trump administration and his picks for secretary of energy and the head of the EPA, Jaramillo said that it wasn’t a big concern and that Tesla was more closely working with FERC, The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He revealed that the company has met with rumored candidates to lead the agency and he described them as “well-intentioned, intelligent, thoughtful people”.
The main takeways from the conversation are that sonnen is focusing on creating as much value as possible for its customers in the residential market through direct advantages of home energy storage, like energy backup, but also through financial value by providing utility services. In addition, they want to keep their products battery agnostic in order to follow the industry. In contrast, Tesla is trying to lead in battery technology with their own battery cell and production, in partnership with Panasonic, and to scale energy storage with electric utilities.