Groundswell is partnering with solar + battery storage company A.F. Mensah, Inc. on solar storage integration and resilience for Groundswell’s first community solar project in Baltimore, MD, at The Empowerment Temple.  Working in partnership with The Economic Empowerment Coalition, which is The Empowerment Temple’s nonprofit Community Development Corporation, this project will use the community solar project we’re developing together to create a new resilience hub for Baltimore that will also serve as a training center for community-owned affordable energy and entrepreneurship.

A.F. Mensah founder and CEO Adje Mensah took a winding path to solar entrepreneurship. He left Togo, Africa, after graduating high school to study electrical engineering at the University of Central Florida.  Through a series of technical and business leadership positions at electric utilities and electric power technology companies, he realized there was a need for distributed power generation that uses solar energy combined with battery storage.  He eventually founded A.F. Mensah, Inc. to address this market need.

We caught up with Adje to learn about how The Empowerment Temple project is just one example of how solar + battery technology can democratize solar energy and ignite economic opportunity for everyone.

On A.F. Mensah’s technology

We develop battery technology systems and combine them with solar projects, we develop the software to manage them, and we operate and transact those projects in electricity markets.  Essentially, we sell cost-effective electricity to homes and businesses; we provide emergency backup power to homes and businesses when there is a power outage; and we use those projects to provide stability and reliability services to electric utilities, so that they can maintain the power grid, especially when they get a lot of solar and other renewable energy onto their systems.

On how battery storage is upending the storyline that solar is only for the wealthy

Usually – I remember this from my early days in solar – there’s a choice between making a project profitable and making that project available for a social cause. One of the benefits of battery storage is that this is now a false choice. You can now do a battery storage project to address a social cause and make the project profitable.

When you combine solar with battery – that system from a technology standpoint can do more than just power generation. It can provide a lot of value to the electric grid infrastructure. And everybody is using that infrastructure, so whether you live in low income community or you live in a mansion, everybody is connected to the grid. If you have a solar and battery storage project connected to your facility, regardless of where you are, you can provide a wide range of reliability services to the electric grid.  That level of reliability service that you can provide regardless of your location now sort of levels the playing field.  And so now all of a sudden you can do a project in a low-income community and expect fairly robust economics for that project. 

In Maryland, where we’re doing the Empowerment Project, the battery can provide a service called frequency regulation.  That frequency regulation service would create revenue for the battery storage system in that project.  The project’s owner would receive that money whether the battery is located at Empowerment Temple or the wealthiest county in Maryland.  So that payment is immune from any perceived default risk from End Users, whether that risk is real or made up. 

Frequency regulation is just an example. There are other types of revenues that battery storage enables that are not available to traditional solar.  These revenues are fairly immune to any default use that developers see from end users of traditional electricity.

On why part of his company’s business model is focused on equity

Electricity is a great enabler for economic growth.  If people don’t have access to reliable and cost-effective electricity, they can only go so far when they’re trying to climb the economic ladder. With the movement of clean energy right now, solar represents a significant portion of incremental power generation that we add to the power grid every year. By adding battery storage technology to solar, not only do we make projects more valuable, but we lower barriers of adoption for many End Users. Furthermore, the nature of solar + storage technology is such that there is a new economy with new types of jobs and careers that we enable in communities where these projects are located. This is a new paradigm we intend to fully leverage to benefit traditionally disadvantaged communities.