solar power making news as distributed generation source

Renewable energy received a significant push in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 with $2.2 billion pledged for research, development, demonstration and commercial implementation through 2009. In the wake of the bill’s signing, solar power has made a number of headlines not only as a renewable energy resource but as a potential form of distributed generation as well.

In late September, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Xcel Energy announced an agreement to develop software to evaluate siting options for off-grid and grid-connected commercial rooftop solar electricity systems in Colorado. The partnership was developed through Xcel Energy’s Utility Innovations program.

Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, estimates that it will need 18 MW of solar power in place by 2007-at least half of which must come from on-site, customer-owned generation facilities-to meet the solar component mandate for renewable energy in Colorado.

Statewide standards for the installation of photovoltaic systems must be in place by the end of March 2006, although Xcel Energy is working to complete this regulatory process by the end of 2005. The agreement will provide Xcel Energy and the public a new tool to assist in the siting of commercial rooftop solar generation facilities by bringing to the marketplace the expertise of the Golden, Colo.-based NREL energy laboratory.

This project will utilize NREL’s Renewable Planning Model. The software will link NREL and Xcel Energy’s geographic information system (GIS) data to map the utility company’s facilities, loads and consumption. This GIS data will be overlaid on top of NREL’s GIS data for solar resources, land ownership, land usage and satellite images. The model will also access several of NREL’s energy production models to determine cost-effective technologies, preferred locations and correspondence to local usage patterns. If the project is successful, it is expected that models will be developed to evaluate other renewable energies, including wind and other solar applications.

Xcel Energy plans on investing more than $250,000 in this project.

Also making news this fall, a company called GridPoint Inc. featured its GridPoint Connect product during the National Solar Tour, in which thousands of homeowners opened their homes on Oct. 1 and 2 to demonstrate various new solar technologies.

The GridPoint Connect product became commercially available in late September and is sold through a variety of channels, including utilities, distributors and home builders. The price of the GridPoint Connect product will vary depending on the size of the home or facility in which it is being implemented, but prices are expected to range from $6,000 to $16,000.

GridPoint Connect is a grid-tied battery backup product that integrates and converts energy from solar panels or other renewable energy sources into electricity that can be used immediately by the customer or stored within the product for future use. The product can also determine the amount of energy used from solar panels vs. from the utility company as well as peak usage throughout the day. In addition to providing backup power during outages, GridPoint Connect also enables users to sell excess energy back to the utility.

The GridPoint Connect product enables customers to integrate renewable energy and also serves as a backup power source.
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GridPoint Connect features the type of advanced metering and communications technology encouraged in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Home and business owners who purchase GridPoint Connect can take advantage of tax credits allowed for commercial and private solar-related equipment. According to GridPoint Inc., the product will also help government agencies comply with mandates for the implementation of technologies that support renewable energy, as well as energy efficiency, reduction and net metering goals the energy bill requires.

“GridPoint Connect allows energy-conscious consumers and businesses who are using or considering solar power to further increase the benefits of using a renewable energy source,” said Peter L. Corsell, GridPoint president and CEO. “With GridPoint Connect, they gain backup power as well as intelligence about the type and amount of energy being consumed. It also allows users to participate in the emerging smart grid and become more proactive in making energy choices.”

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