Solar Synergy 2.0

We at the Green Living Journal believe that the solar photovoltaic (PV) system, combined with in-home battery storage, is the only sensible, sustainable tool that individuals can use to reduce their impact on the environment, protect themselves from rising electric rates, and provide energy security in the event of disasters (natural or otherwise). In other words, solar energy does far more than just provide electricity, benefits that fossil fuels can never provide. Speaking of fossil fuels, a solar array can also provide you with fuel for your car, your yard tools, or motorcycle, or boat, and even an airplane.

Solar energy definitely adds up to far more than the sum of its parts, and the future looks even brighter thanks to exciting developments in technology, falling costs, and simpler permitting regulations (not everywhere yet).

If solar synergy is just around the corner, shouldn’t there be some real world examples already happening?

Excellent question, and the answer is yes.

One of the most exciting and far reaching developments is taking place in Vermont (birthplace of the Green Living Journal) by that state’s largest electric utility, Green Mountain Power (GMP).

So what’s so special about GMP?

Let’s begin with the company itself.

The Vision

According to Green Mountain Power’s website, their vision is, “to use energy as a force for good, improving lives and transforming communities. GMP is focused on a new way of doing business to meet the needs of customers with integrated energy services that help people use less energy and save money, while continuing to generate clean, cost-effective and reliable power in Vermont”.

They are the world’s first utility to get a B Corp certification. Of the company’s top 15 positions, seven, including the President and CEO, are held by women. To know why that is relevent, see this issue’s Money section article “The Power of Three”.

Energy Innovation 

In order to more fully understand why and how GMP is breaking new ground, I had a long phone conversation with Josh Castonguay, Director, Generation & Renewable Innovation (does your local utility have one of these?).

Facing state-mandated renewable energy goals , rising charges for peak energy loads, and the threat of more Sandy- class hurricanes that bring the grid down for weeks at a time, GMP is moving towards more renewable energy generation, combined with battery storage as the best solution. They have created and will analyze three different “Use Cases” for the deployment of storage options.

Battery Storage “Use Cases”

Large centralized facilities owned by GMP such as Stafford • Hill in Rutland, which generates 2.5 MW of solar energy. It is also a leading project in the nation, pairing solar generation with 4 MW of battery storage to increase reliability and power for the emergency shelter at Rutland High School.

Distributed storage owned by GMP. The utility has or• dered 500 Tesla Powerwall units (Backup battery units for in-home installation. Under this option, GMP maintains ownership of the battery pack and charges the customer a small fee on their monthly bill. They may charge the battery from the grid or from their own solar panels. Either way, the customer is assured of backup pwer in the event the grid goes down.

Distributed storage owned by the customer. The battery • pack is purchased outright, can be charged with grid power or the customer’s own solar panels.

The Solar Capital of New England

GMP and the City of Rutland established a bold vision for Rutland as the Energy City of the Future using energy innovation as a focal point for economic development and revitalization. Rutland now has the most solar power per capita of any city in New England.

As the Solar Capital of New England, Rutland exemplifies how fostering investments in renewable energy can grow a more vibrant economy.

Green Mountain Energy Education CenterEnergy Innovation Center

The GMP Energy Innovation Center (EIC) in downtown Rutland is where GMP’s dreamers and believers go every day to develop the next great idea to keep GMP at the forefront of energy creation and distribution, and promote the economic vitality of the region.

The EIC is open to the public and features interactive displays.: a talking cow describing how electricity is made from from manure; seasonal impacts on solar generation; and how hydro and wind generators produce electricity. There is also real information available on how to save energy and money in the home.

Stafford Hill Solar Farm

The Stafford Hill Solar Farm combines solar, storage and micro-grid technology in an innovative effort to improve resiliency and safety in communities. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, this is the first project to establish a micro-grid powered solely by solar and battery backup, with no other fuel source. During a disaster like Hurricane Sandy, this microgrid will provide power to an emergency shelter at the high school along with other homes and businesses in the area.

Stafford Hill is a major milestone in creating more resilient and strong communities . The project is sited at the closed Rutland City landfill, and is the first known solar storage project in the country to repurpose brownfield land, once used to bury waste, for the source of renewable energy.

The Road to Solar Synergy

Green Mountain Power is succeeding at what every utility in the country should be doing – finding innovative ways to serve customers, promote renewable energy, and remain fiscally sound. What will it take to get the entire country on the same path?

Previously published in Green Living Journal Winter 2015

Comments

  1. Very good Gary. I am all for this technology, however, unless we solve the water issue, which by the way, can supply UNLIMITED ENERGY….we are toast…!!!!

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