The new center will house Sunnova technologies, including a microgrid system powered by a grid simulator and a solar array simulator with the ability to replicate various grid and solar array conditions. Photo via sunnova.com

A Houston energy services company has announced the upcoming opening of a state-of-the-art energy testing and integration technologies hub.

Sunnova Energy International Inc. will open the Sunnova Adaptive Technology Center in 2024. The center, which will come sometime in the first quarter of the year, is part of Sunnova Adaptive Home, Sunnova Adaptive Business, and Sunnova Adaptive Community service offerings. Founded in Houston in 2012, Sunnova aims to “create a better energy service at a better price.”

The ATC will house Sunnova technologies, including a microgrid system powered by a grid simulator and a solar array simulator with the ability to replicate various grid and solar array conditions. An interchangeable inverter and battery test beds, and a fully-functioning model home equipped with full-sized appliances, including a range, oven, refrigerator and HVAC system, will also be part of the new ATC.

This will assist Sunnova engineering teams to perform system level validation to integrate disparate technologies for reliable operation during various grid, solar and home conditions. The ATC will also be the home for service technicians that help with customer issues.

"We've always been committed to ensuring high standards of quality and service excellence for our customers," William J. (John) Berger, CEO at Sunnova, says in a news release. "With the ATC, both our customers and dealers can trust that they are partnering with a company that has an unwavering focus on innovative technologies, integrated energy solutions, quality control, and service excellence."

This announcement comes just two months after the completed expansion of Sunnova’s Global Command Center, which is a similar facility that works with cutting-edge technologies, and customer service. The ATC will also continue to develop its customer-facing experiences like the Sunnova App, and its Sunnova Sentient technology platform, which works with energy management.

“The ATC won’t be a static configuration, but a responsive, flexible arrangement that will effectively pull together top, industry-leading technologies to deliver customized energy solutions to our customers,” Michael Grasso, executive vice president and chief revenue officer at Sunnova, says in the release. “It’s a tremendous effort to qualify hardware and integrate all the technologies we work with – but doing all of this ensures the services reaching our customers are top of the line.”

Sunnova's platform is expanding in Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy of

Houston solar company expands in Puerto Rico, receives DOE funding

island opportunities

A Houston renewable energy company has announced two initiatives that are hoping to provide more grid stability on the island of Puerto Rico.

Sunnova announced that it's expanding its Sunnova Sentient Virtual Power Plant platform. The company has also been selected by the United States Department of Energy’s Grid Deployment Office to be a part of a $440 million investment from the Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund.

Sunnova's VPP platform is expanding in Puerto Rico through a collaboration between the Sunnova Power Flex Program and LUMA's Customer Battery Energy Sharing program in Puerto Rico. This plan is "to transform the role of distributed solar and storage customers in enhancing grid stability during peak demand periods, all while offering them financial incentives for their participation," according to Sunnova's release.

Puerto Rican residents can opt into the Sunnova Flex Power Program and will be compensated for the power supplied by their batteries. According to Sunnova, a battery could earn up to $1,000 for this first pilot year.

“We are incredibly excited about the possibilities that our industry-leading VPP platform—delivered to our customers through our Sunnova Flex Power Program—holds for the people of Puerto Rico,” John Berger, CEO of Sunnova, says in the release. “As we continue to spearhead the transition towards a cleaner and more robust future, extending our VPP platform will not only help reshape the energy landscape in Puerto Rico but also empower our valued customers to play an integral role in bolstering grid stability. We eagerly anticipate the transformative impact this program will have on our customers and the Puerto Rican community at large.”

Sunnova has 52,000 solar and storage customers on the island and has installed storage to a capacity of 800 MWh.

“We're excited to collaborate with Sunnova on this important initiative, which signifies a major step in our ongoing efforts to enhance energy reliability for Puerto Rico. We're dedicated to achieving a more stable energy supply, reducing disruptions, and securing a resilient energy future, ultimately benefiting the people of Puerto Rico,” Jessica Laird, VP of Customer Experience at LUMA, says in the statement.

Sunnova's selection by the DOE Grid Deployment Office makes the company one of the eight to receive chunk of a $440 million commitment to install rooftop solar and batteries in PR.

Houston-based Sunnova Energy has secured a loan from the Department of Energy. Photo via sunnova.com

DOE loans Houston company $3B for project that will provide solar energy to underserved communities

ray of sunshine

A partial loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy will support more than $5 billion in loans for Sunnova Energy equipment and technology that’ll supply solar energy to underserved communities.

The $3 billion partial loan guarantee equates to a 90 percent guarantee of up to $3.3 billion in loans. In turn, Sunnova says, that’ll support more than $5 billion in loans to about 75,000 to 115,000 U.S. households. It’s said to be the largest single commitment to solar power ever made by the federal government.

At least 20 percent of the Project Hestia loans will be extended to customers with FICO credit scores of 680 or less, and up to 20 percent of the loans will be earmarked for homeowners in impoverished Puerto Rico.

The Department of Energy (DOE) says Sunnova’s Project Hestia — a virtual power plant — will provide rooftop solar, battery storage, and energy software to residential customers and create more than 3,400 jobs. Sunnova, an energy-as-a-service provider, says each residential power system will feature energy technology accessible by smartphones and other electronic devices.

“The software will give customers insight into their household’s energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions, allowing customers to reduce electricity use — or even contribute electricity to the system in markets that allow such contributions — when the grid is under stress,” says DOE.

The estimated 568-megawatt Project Hestia is poised to help avoid the emission of more than 7.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 25 years, DOE says. The project will produce enough energy to power roughly 425,000 homes per year.

John Berger, CEO of Sunnova, says the federal loan guarantee “marks the beginning of an exciting chapter in our pursuit of a cleaner and more equitable energy landscape. With our collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, we are embarking on a journey that expands clean energy access and delivers economic benefit to Americans in disadvantaged communities.”

As of June 30, Sunnova had 348,600 customers in the U.S., up from 279,400 at the end of 2022. The company projects a 40 percent rate of customer growth in 2024 compared with 2023.

The publicly traded company posted revenue of $328.1 million in the first half of 2023, up from $212.7 million during the same period last year.

Last month, in an interview with EnergyCapital, Berger explained misconceptions about solar power, predicted the rise of the home as a power station, and highlighted the importance of energy independence.

John Berger, CEO of Houston-based Sunnova, explains the importance of energy independence and solar's role in achieving it. Courtesy of Sunnova

Houston solar exec says a major key to slowing climate change is offering energy independence

Q&A

Following extreme temperatures and increasing grid instability this summer, CEO and Chairman of the board of residential solar power service company Sunnova Energy Corp., John Berger, is encouraging individuals to take charge of their energy needs.

Berger founded the Houston-grown company back in 2012, before solar energy was seen as a hip, clean power source. Now, Sunnova (NYSE: NOVA) is a leader in residential solar installations.

In a discussion with EnergyCapital Berger broke down misconceptions about solar power, predicted the rise of the home as a power station, and highlighted the importance of energy independence.

EnergyCapital: In the wake of a record breaking heat wave, how do you anticipate renewables being incorporated into the market as demand response soars?

John Berger: It's a rethinking of the entire system. What goes with that is let's rethink our regulatory structure. In this regard, I'm not talking about renewable energy versus fossil fuel. I'm talking about enabling and empowering the consumer and enabling and empowering the individual, whether that's a homeowner, a business owner, or apartment dweller. We don't do that in this country. We don't do it, outside, maybe Houston, Dallas, and a couple of other small markets. That's inhibiting the transition greatly. The monopolies want higher prices, because the more money they spend, the more money they make. They are not embracing change. They are not embracing technologies. They're not embracing demand response. Because that limits their revenue. So, we should recognize that that's the system. We shouldn't expect a different outcome when we've given us some incentive structure that: spend more money, don't change and don't adopt new technologies.

We need to change the entire energy system because technologies like solar, storage, software, and hardware exist and need to be adopted. We need to have the right regulatory system to allow consumers to adopt them. We need to have the right price, so that consumers can adopt these technologies at a pace that's far quicker than what we're seeing now so that they can ultimately address climate change.

As soon as we unleash the individual and empower the individual — powering energy independence is our tagline — we will solve the ultimate risk to humanity that is climate change a lot faster.

EC: Though solar is rising in popularity, are there any misconceptions about solar power in relation to residential installations that have persisted?

JB: I think the bigger one, whether it’s on a home or in a field, is that somehow since solar is intermittent, it's not reliable. It is intermittent to some degree, but — if you've ever run a utility system — coal is unreliable, gas fired power is unreliable, nuclear is even unreliable. We saw that in the winter storm Uri down in Texas. The gas wellheads froze off because they weren't prepared for the freeze. Were the wind turbines prepared for the freeze? No, they weren't either. The one source that performed better was solar. But you don't see that in a lot of the commentary because it didn't fit the political agenda that some have.

The question is, can you put enough of both on the system or on the home so that you can carry through whether it's a winter storm day or a heatwave in the summer? The misconception that solar will always be intermittent is the constant problem that we face. What are you going to do when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine? My response: have you ever heard of a battery? We’ve got to get over that hurdle. Frankly, it's just an excuse and at best an uneducated excuse. We need to get over that and move on, and then figure out how we can best adopt the technologies of solar and storage that are plummeting in price, through empowering the individual.

EC: Sunnova is expanding into virtual power plants, can you discuss what that means and how they might impact grid stability?

JB: Virtual power plants, or grid services, or aggregation services — we call them energy services periods. There's a lot of different names for the same thing. It's basically taking solar storage software demand technologies and incorporating them into a centralized part of what we consider the grid — even though there's not a grid in the United States. The grid, as the common person understands it to be, is actually a haphazard collection of wires and centralized generation that was just put together over the last 130 years. There was not a master plan. You cannot physically move power from Houston to New York, for instance. You haven't ever been able to do that. We're trying to have that fill in of the small solar, the storage, the software, the demand side. We're saying each home, through this Sunnova adaptive platform with our sentient software connecting all these folks together, is likely to have some excess power that they can put onto a utility system or a regional system, so that the neighbor next to him can have that excess power if that neighbor needs it. It's a part of being a part of the Sunnova Club, that we can offer that value to you. That value may be that you get that extra power that you have to pay for where the value is the price in the wholesale market, or it could be that you get paid for that extra value that you happen to produce, through our adaptive platform. So it's a way of connecting homes together so that we optimize the solar and batteries that are on the other side of the meter or on the homes on the businesses. That's a way that you can squeeze more out of that investment that you made or that solar service that you have with us.

EC: As the cost of equipment for renewable energy systems, like EV charging stations and solar roof installations, decreases, is it possible to see a transformation of the home into a power station?

JB: I would go even further and say the home is the gas station now. That's what's already happened. It's fascinating if you really step back and think about it — the electric vehicle is becoming more popular, not necessarily because it addresses climate change, but because it's cool. And because it's enabled by software, AI, and a lot of the other things that make our experience in that car different. I think a lot of people now see and understand that. The other side of that is well, why can't that happen to your house as well? Like there's a lot of automation that should be happening in the house. There's a lot of software and hardware that's going in the house with the entertainment systems and all this other stuff.

You should reimagine how your house is powered and how it uses power. There's a lot of other things that you should be able to do in your house and it's more advanced than just flipping the light switches on and off and turning air conditioners on whether you're there or not.

We waste an enormous amount of energy in the United States. It's estimated that we literally burn over twice the amount of energy that we need and so therefore we're wasting over 50 percent of our energy usage. I mean, just think about the carbon release and the financial destruction that causes. We can do a lot better today with the technology. These technologies are available today and increasingly becoming more inexpensive.

EC: You describe Sunnova as “powering energy independence” — what do you mean by that and why is energy independence important?

JB: I think independence in your life just period is important. You want to have the ability to choose what you want to do in life. It's natural, especially Americans, to say, "I can choose anything I want to do. I can choose where I want to eat tonight. I can choose what car I buy." But for some strange reason, you can't choose your power provider in this country.

That's like if AT&T came to you on cellular and said, "We're going to actually triple your bill today. The regulator already signed off on it. We're gonna give you the flip phone back and take away Apple because Apple didn't agree to our terms. And you're going to like it." That's what we get from the electric industry. It's what we always get. That's unacceptable. We need to open things up to choice and Sunnova provides that choice to the consumers.

We increasingly are taking more technologies on, like load management, storage, more software with our sentient software, and we're coming in and saying, "Look, regardless of manufacturer, we're putting that together. Whatever way you want to fund that equipment, that service that you're procuring, that's fine with us you want to do cash fine, we'll do a loan fine." We offer that lease PPA, but that financing isn't enabled. But then we wrap our service together regardless of how you choose to fund it, which is different from anybody else. We say we're going to be there within 24 hours to fix that problem for most of your issues, so that means we're going to keep that power flowing. That's all it means. It's really that simple. When we do that we can come in and say you're going to be a part of the Sunnova adaptive energy platform. Basically, you're going to be able to get more value, a lower bill, if you're able to sell some of that power you don't need on that particular hot day to your neighbor through Sunnova. We’ll handle everything so you don't have to do anything. Or we can give you some additional power that you may not know you need to charge a car up or something like that and the neighbor will provide it through the Sunnova adaptive platform. So it's about how we rethink the entire energy business.

We're putting it in the hands of the individual to make the decision about what they want, you know, going over that point about reliability, if you work from home, you have a high demand for reliability. You have a higher willingness to pay for higher reliability versus somebody that has to go to work every single day of the week. They may not have that same desire, and they probably don't want to have that level of reliability. You should be able to choose. The utility just decides, the monopoly decides who gets served well and who doesn't. There's no consumer coming in that says I have a higher demand. So what do people do? They'll get dirty generators. One of the biggest industry growth periods in the entire economy is backup generators that burn diesel and burn natural gas. Again, we're taking an industrial age system with an archaic, communistic approach with economics and having bureaucrats make the decision, so we're getting suboptimal outcomes all the way to suboptimal fighting climate change. If we just empower the individual they'd say, “Well, why don't we just put more solar panels on and put more batteries and manage the load better when I bought the electric vehicle?” Those are the kinds of solutions that can be crafted individually for each consumer and that's what we do here at Sunnova.

EC: As a long-time Houstonian, how do you envision Houston’s role in leading the energy transition?

JB: I think Houston has a key role. Houston is the most diverse city in the United States. It is that diversity that's given a lot of strength to Sunnova over the years. Our quality of life is really high. All that means this is a fantastic place to build and create the new global energy industry. We understand oil and gas very well. The bigger oil and gas firms in the world are headquartered here and that's fantastic. They’ll be a part of the solution, I would hope. But if you look at innovation and transformation in industry, there's about a 100 percent hit ratio that the incumbents actually don't lead the change, and in many cases don't make it through the change. And so what we have to do is recognize that new leaders, new companies like Sunnova need to be formed and grown up here. Take advantage of the great quality of life, the low cost structure, the diversity of its people and its communities, and really lead the world and transform the energy industry.

I'm absolutely convinced that the Texan way of doing things, the Houston way of doing things, is a key part of that and demonstrating leadership. We certainly will do our part to help lead Houston forward to be the lead dog if you will, on the transformation of the global energy business.

— — —

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Tesla starts off 2024 with tumble in sales

in a decline

Tesla sales fell sharply last quarter as competition increased worldwide, electric vehicle sales growth slowed, and price cuts failed to lure more buyers.

The Texas company said Tuesday that it delivered 386,810 vehicles worldwide from January through March, almost 9% below the 423,000 it sold in the same quarter of last year. It was the first year-over-year quarterly sales decline in nearly four years.

Sales also fell short of even the most bearish Wall Street expectations. Auto industry analysts polled by FactSet were looking for 457,000 vehicle deliveries from Tesla Inc. That's a shortfall of more than 15%.

The company blamed the decline in part on phasing in an updated version of the Model 3 sedan at its Fremont, California, factory, plant shutdowns due to shipping diversions in the Red Sea, and an arson attack that knocked out power to its German factory.

But TD Cowen Analyst Jeffrey Osborne wrote in a note to investors that weaker March sales indicate that incentives, including discounts and a free trial of “Full Self Driving” software, “did not work as demand deteriorated.”

Despite the sales decline, Tesla was able to retake its global EV sales crown from China's BYD, which sold just over 300,000 electric vehicles during the quarter, Osborne wrote.

In its letter to investors in January, Tesla predicted “notably lower” sales growth this year. The letter said Tesla is between two big growth waves, one from global expansion of the Models 3 and Y, and a second coming from the Model 2, a new, smaller and less expensive vehicle with an unknown release date.

“This was an unmitigated disaster 1Q that is hard to explain away,” wrote Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush who has been very bullish on Tesla's stock. The drop in sales was far worse than expected, he wrote in a note to investors.

The quarter is a “seminal moment” in the Tesla growth story, Ives wrote, adding that CEO Elon Musk will have to turn the company around. “Otherwise, some darker days could clearly be ahead that could disrupt the long-term Tesla narrative.”

Ives maintained his Outperform rating on Tesla's shares and cut his one-year price target from $315 to $300. Ives estimated that China sales slid 3% to 4% during the period.

Shares of Tesla tumbled 4.9% to close Tuesday at $166.63, continuing an extended decline. Investors have shaved 33% off the value of the company so far this year, dumping shares after growing leery of the tremendous growth story that Tesla has been telling.

“Street criticism is warranted as growth has been sluggish and (profit) margins showing compression, with China a horror show and competition increasing from all angles,” Ives wrote.

Tesla dramatically lowered U.S. prices by up to $20,000 for some models last year. In March it temporarily knocked $1,000 off the Model Y, its top-selling vehicle. Those price cuts narrowed the company’s profit margins and spooked investors.

Analysts polled by FactSet expected the average selling price for Model Y to be $41,000 last quarter, $5,000 less than a year ago and $15,000 lower than the peak of $56,000 in June of 2022.

Tesla's sales numbers also pulled down shares of its U.S. EV competitors. Shares of Rivian fell 5.2%, while Lucid stock dropped 3.5% on Tuesday.

Deliveries of the Models 3 and Y, fell 10.3% year over year to 369,783. Sales of the company's other models, the aging X and S and the new Cybertruck, rose almost 60% to 17,027. Tesla produced 10.7% more vehicles than it sold during the first quarter.

Softer-than-expected first-quarter sales are reducing analyst expectations for Tesla's quarterly earnings ahead of their scheduled release on April 23.

Tesla’s sales come against the backdrop of a slowing market for electric vehicles in the U.S. EV sales grew 47% last year to a record 1.19 million as EV market share rose to 7.6%. But sales growth slowed toward the end of the year. In December, they rose 34%.

Updated EV sales numbers will come later Tuesday when most automakers report U.S. sales.

Other automakers also have had to cut electric vehicle production and reduce prices to move EVs off dealership lots. Ford, for instance, cut production of the F-150 Lightning electric pickup, and lopped up to $8,100 off the price of the Mustang Mach E electric SUV in order to sell 2023 models.

SLB to consolidate carbon capture business in partnership

M&A moves

SLB announced its plans to combine its carbon capture business with Norway company, Aker Carbon Capture.

Upon completion of the transaction, which is expected to close by the end of the second quarter of this year, SLB will own 80 percent of the combined business and ACC will own 20 percent.

According to a SLB news release, the combined technology portfolios will accelerate the introduction of promising early-stage decarbonization technology.

“For CCUS to have the expected impact on supporting global net-zero ambitions, it will need to scale up 100-200 times in less than three decades,” Olivier Le Peuch, CEO of SLB, says in the release. “Crucial to this scale-up is the ability to lower capture costs, which often represent as much as 50-70% of the total spend of a CCUS project.

The International Energy Agency estimates that over one gigaton of CO2 every year year will need to be captured by 2030 — a figure that scales up to over six gigatons by 2050.

"We are excited to create this business with ACC to accelerate the deployment of carbon capture technologies that will shift the economics of carbon capture across high-emitting industrial sectors,” Le Peuch continues.

SLB is slated to pay NOK 4.12 billion — around $379.4 million — to own 80 percent of Aker Carbon Capture Holding AS, which owns ACC, per the news release, and SLB may also pay up to NOK 1.36 billion over the next three years, depending on business performance.

3 top DOE researchers take professor positions at University of Houston

new hires

Three top researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have accepted joint appointments at the University of Houston.

“This strategic collaboration leverages the combined strengths of Argonne and the [university] to further critical research efforts, public-private partnerships, and educational opportunities for students in the energy transition and lead to transformational advancement of commercial scale energy industries,” Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for energy and innovation at UH, says in a news release.

These appointments are part of a memorandum of understanding that Argonne, located in the Chicago area, recently signed with the Greater Houston Partnership. The agreement seeks to accelerate decarbonization efforts in the Houston area.

The three scientists appointed to positions are UH are:

  • Zach Hood, whose appointment is in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering. He’ll be hosted by Yan Yao, a UH professor who is principal investigator at the Texas Center for Superconductivity.
  • Jianlin Li, whose appointment also is in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He plans to establish a dry room facility at UH and conduct research on energy storage technologies, electrode processing, and cell manufacturing.
  • Michael Wang, the inaugural Distinguished Senior Scholar at UH’s Energy Transition Institute. His objectives include advancing research in decarbonizing the oil and gas sector through carbon management and transitioning to renewable energy sources. Wang will conduct seminars and present lectures in environmental sustainability, lifecycle, and techno-economic analysis of energy technologies, while helping Argonne tap into the university’s talent pool.

“With more than 30 years of experience, Dr. Wang brings critical tools and expertise to the UH Energy Transition Institute, which is dedicated to unlocking the transformative potential within three critical domains: hydrogen, carbon management, and circular plastics,” says Joe Powell, founding executive director of the Energy Transition Institute. “These areas not only present opportunities for reshaping the energy sector but also stand as pillars for societal sustainable development and decarbonization.”