DoE Seeking “Smart” Home Photovoltaic System

May 15th, 2012 by Erwin Gianchandani Post a comment »

The SunShot Initiative [image courtesy DoE].As part of its recently announced SunShot Initiative — “a collaborative national initiative to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade” — the Department of Energy’s (DoE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has issued a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for “transformational solar technologies and systems utilizing a Plug and Play concept.” In particular, with this FOA, EERE plans to support up to $25 million in research pursuing “radically new designs and frameworks for the next generation of solar panels and photon-to-electron conversion technologies” — and there are key opportunities for computer science. Letters of intent are due to DoE by 5pm EDT tomorrow.

According to the FOA (following the link):

While non-hardware regulatory and process costs for PV installations are being addressed in the near-term through the joint efforts of DOE and the solar industry, opportunities exist in the long-term to eliminate the requirements and costs associated with permitting, inspection, and interconnection. DOE is looking to address the residential PV system cost and installation issues from a completely different angle by taking a fresh look at the grid and distributed PV systems, as a whole, and exploring new technology pathways to rearrange the PV system components, functional requirements, and interfaces. At the heart of this new approach is the Plug and Play concept, which has been utilized very successfully in the computer and automotive industries. DOE believes that Plug and Play technologies can be applied to the PV industry to reduce costs and simplify installations…

 

Using the Plug and Play concept, the DOE SunShot Initiative seeks to transform the evolution of residential solar energy technology hardware design and architecture, the interface to the electricity distribution grid, and the interface to utility and municipal planning. Paramount to the success of Plug and Play is the smart home PV system that is enabled through elegant system design, which eliminates expensive and redundant business processes. In this broader context, smart means that the hardware and infrastructure automatically communicate and react. The Plug and Play vision is to leapfrog over today’s non-hardware and hardware obstacles with an intelligent systems approach.

 

A Plug and Play PV system is a commercial, off-the-shelf system that is fully inclusive with little need for individual customization. Any homeowner/consumer can buy and install (or have a contractor install) the system without the need for special training or specialized tools. The homeowner plugs the system into a “PV-ready” circuit and an automatic PV discovery process initiates communication between the system and the utility. The system and the interface to the grid are automatically configured for optimal operation. This scenario is depicted in [the figure below], in which a bi-directional flow of information between the home and utility via a smart grid is illustrated.

 

A Plug and Play photovoltaic system of the future consists of a bi-directional flow of information between the home and utility via a smart grid [image courtesy DoE].

DoE points to the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Engineering Research Centers (ERC) as one example of a university-led collaboration spanning research labs, industry, utilities, and local authorities, etc.:

One scenario may be a university-led program [similar to the NSF’s ERC] with strong participation from industry, utilities, local authorities having jurisdiction and national laboratories. Projects funded under this FOA will take a fresh look at the relationships, as a whole, between the electricity consumers, utilities, and distributed PV generation. These projects will explore new technology pathways that reduce the so-called soft costs of the Balance of System (including permitting, inspection, and grid interconnection), ease of installation, and enhancement to performance, reliability, flexibility, and safety of the PV system. In addition, projects funded under this FOA will test and validate the feasibility of these technologies in the field.

DoE plans to make up to two awards, with a maximum award size of $12.5 million per award over five years.

Letters of intent are due by 5pm EDT tomorrow — Wednesday, May 16th — and applications are due by 5pm EDT June 18th.

To learn more, check out the FOA here.

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)