NRG Home is adding water management technology to its solar offering for one of its target markets, California, which faces new water regulations as the state withers in its fourth year of drought.
As California finalizes its mandatory cuts in water use for an average of 25 percent for urban water suppliers, new NRG solar customers in Fresno and San Diego can receive a smart sprinkler from Rachio.
Existing NRG solar customers in the state can also receive the smart sprinkler at market price as part of a distribution agreement. Fresno will likely have to cut its water use by 28 percent; San Diego is expected to face a 16 percent cut.
“This is not going to solve the water crisis in California,” said Steve McBee, CEO of NRG Home, “but it’s a way to get started and get something into the hands of our customers now.”
The bundle is an example of a larger push by energy retailers and solar providers, which often now think of themselves as energy services providers, to bring more holistic offerings to residential customers. (NRG Home includes the conglomerate's solar business and energy retail business.) NRG is the first solar provider, however, to bring a water bundle to market for drought-impacted areas.
For homes that want to go a step further in slashing water use, NRG will offer rebates for turf replacement starting in May in those two cities. The details of the rebate have not been disclosed, but “it’s going to be meaningful enough to make a dent,” McBee said, although it will not cover the full cost of ripping out a lawn. It will be separate from any other incentives the state is offering as part of its goal to replace 50 million lawns this year with drought-resistant landscaping.
The sale of solar by NRG and others could get a boost due to the drought as the energy-water nexus becomes a talking point for water-conscious customers. Hydropower output is already down in California due to the drought, which is mostly being made up for by more natural gas.
California has some of the strictest rules in the nation around closed-loop cooling systems for thermal power plants that use marine water, but even for plants that use closed-cycle cooling, water is still lost to evaporation. Nationally, more than 40 percent of freshwater withdrawals go to thermoelectric generation. Solar PV and wind, on the other hand, do not have the water requirements for cooling that thermoelectric plants do.
“Our business is solar-led, but it’s not solar-exclusive,” said McBee. “We’re moving water up to the top of the stack.” San Diego and Fresno are the first cities, but NRG hopes to expand the bundle to more of California as the year goes on.
The bundle is just the tip of the melting iceberg. “We’re looking at all kinds of technologies,” McBee said about NRG Home’s approach to integrating water into its offering, which currently includes solar, EV charging, home repair services and portable power. Everything from low-flow fixtures to gray water recycling systems are being considered.
“We want the most intelligent and integrated offering we can bring to customers for water efficiency.” A more complete suite of water efficiency products is expected at the end of this year.
For NRG’s retail energy business, there is also an opportunity to integrate water solutions, especially in Texas, which has also faced drought conditions in recent years, although reports have suggested it could be subsiding in 2015.