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Defining Today’s Utility-Grade Solar

There is a lot of discussion in the industry today about whether or not utilities are doing enough to implement solar. Today, solar energy currently only accounts for less than one percent of all energy worldwide (as SolarBuzz notes per DOE numbers), which suggests that many utilities are not taking solar seriously. So what is standing in the way of the industry rolling out truly utility-grade solar?

To begin, it’s important to define what is meant by the term “utility-grade solar”. Utility-grade solar refers to a more holistic, all encompassing approach to solar that can scale to serve a multitude of markets including residential, commercial, education, healthcare, etc.  Yes, many utilities are already involved in solar today - but not to the degree that they could be. Many have offerings that are only offered to a specific segment of the market, but do not have the capacity (today, at least) to expand those offerings.

Recently the Solar Energy Power Association (SEPA) issued their 2008 “Top Ten Utility Solar Rankings” report, which reports that utilities’ use of solar doubled in 2008. SolarBuzz confirms this, stating that worldwide solar installations increased to 5,948 MW in 2008, up from 2,826 MW in 2007.  So, it is clear that the utilities have a deep, vested interest in solar and are making an effort to deploy the systems that will help them to scale their offerings to serve all markets.

While the utilities’ increased interest in solar is encouraging, there is a shift that still needs to take place to move from mere utilization of solar as part of the overall power portfolio mix, to truly achieving utility-grade solar offerings. Because the total output of a single solar or wind plant is usually far less than that of a traditional energy plant, many more renewable plants are required to produce a similar amount of electricity. As a result, managing solar electric power production requires a new operational paradigm.

At Fat Spaniel, we refer to this new operational paradigm as the implementation of Energy Intelligence systems. Energy Intelligence systems are industrial-grade offerings that give utility companies a fast, easy start-up with a comprehensive set of applications that includes:

  • Real-time plant management
  • Advanced analytics for optimizing performance
  • Features for supporting mobile personnel
  • A suite of revenue-generating services including agency reporting, renewable energy certificate (REC) registration, and environmental reporting

These Energy Intelligence systems provide power plant monitoring via integration with a large number and a wide variety of components for data collection, inverter monitoring, power metering, communications networking and environmental assessment. Robust solutions are also available for wired- and wireless communications, IT component failure detection, and end-to-end security.

We are firm believers that the utilities industry is making great steps in their increasing deployment of solar systems. The implementation of these Energy Intelligence systems provide the important next step to transition the utilities to offering full, complete utility-grade solar to all markets.

Write back to us at “dogblog at fatspaniel dot com” to share your views.

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