Concurrent Design wins DOE SunShot grant for smart energy switch

Concurrent Design Inc. has received a one-year, $1 million cooperative award from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative. With support from Pecan Street Inc., the company will develop an advanced prototype of Energy Switch, a home energy device that manages the flow of electricity between a home, the home’s solar panels, an on-site battery, back-up generation and the electric grid.

Pecan Street has already developed and successfully tested the concept in its Pike Powers Lab in Austin. The SunShot award will allow Concurrent Design and Pecan Street to produce and test a more advanced prototype that demonstrates full commercial capability and can serve as a reference design for a new category of residential energy products.

Despite technology advances in solar photovoltaics, batteries and other distributed energy technologies over the past decade, a critical technology gap prevents these technologies from working together. For instance, what if a homeowner or group of homeowners wants to combine rooftop solar panels, a gas generator, and a battery system to provide emergency backup generation to one or more grid-connected homes in the event of power outages? What if they want to combine these products to operate a microgrid?

Such solutions require a hardware router that can intelligently move electricity between these various sources and can, when necessary, prioritize which electricity demands to serve. For example, this capability might be needed during power outages after hurricanes to ensure that refrigerators can operate or when a homeowner’s electricity demand exceeds the available energy from the battery, solar panels, and generators.

“People can install their own solar panels and a home battery. They can even buy back-up gas generators,” said Pecan Street CTO Bert Haskell, a former MCC and HelioVolt executive who is leading hardware development efforts. “But the pieces don’t integrate well, so they are far less effective than the sum of their parts. If we want smarter homes that take advantage of innovation in solar and energy storage, we need tools to make sense of all the new customer options.”

Energy Switch will clear a path for widespread adoption of residential microgrids that feature solar, storage, and even back-up generators. Pecan Street’s prototype eliminates redundant components, custom onsite design, and labor costs of residential microgrids, making them simpler and less expensive to design and faster to install.

“Energy Switch fills a critical gap in the implementation of a smart, automated energy system that customers can take full advantage of,” said Thomas Ortman, president of Concurrent Design. “Customers have more options every year, and Energy Switch will make them all work better, smarter and more reliably. There is no question that this technology will happen. We are delighted to help this move along with the help of the DOE SunShot Initiative.”

Energy Switch works with legacy residential infrastructure and appliances as well as new construction and smart appliances.

The DOE SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort that aggressively drives innovation to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of the decade. Through SunShot, the Energy Department supports efforts by private companies, universities, and national laboratories to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour.

Concurrent Design is a complete engineering design and build firm located in Austin, Texas, providing support for any part of the product design process or the design of the manufacturing tools and systems that make those products. With core strengths in mechanical engineering and manufacturing engineering, Concurrent Design excels at engineering design in industrial, commercial and consumer product sectors.


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