Category Archives: Energy Innovation Series

EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #12: Community-Owned Utility – CPS Energy

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight around 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

Find more information on this featured innovation here.

Want to build CPS Energy’s new massive solar project in San Antonio?  Pack your bags.  You may have to move to the Alamo city and hire a few hundred local employees.

With more than $2.3 billion in annual revenue and $10 billion in total assets, CPS Energy (CPS) is the largest municipally-owned electric and gas utility in the country, providing service to almost 750,000 customers in and around San Antonio, Texas.

CPS’s strategic goals and decisions are among the most progressive in the country.  It is shooting for 20 percent renewable energy generation capacity by 2020 and has plans to mothball one of its 1970s-era coal plants in 2018, 15 years earlier than expected. But beyond carbon reduction targets and renewable energy commitments, CPS is using a very old-fashioned tool to spur energy innovation deep in the heart of Texas.

The tool? LEVERAGE. With a $2 billion annual operating budget and the highest credit rating in the industry, CPS has dollars to spend on innovative technologies, and the company is leveraging its renewable energy and clean technology dollars to bolster local job growth, protect the environment and help its customers use energy more wisely. CPS calls it the “New Energy Economy.”

“We have the opportunity to leverage our buying power to benefit our community, by requiring our partners to add more value to San Antonio,” said Doyle Beneby, President & CEO of CPS Energy. “That value comes in the form of jobs for our community by establishing headquarters and adding manufacturing. It also comes in the form of investment in San Antonio’s educational institutions.” Read More »

Also posted in Texas, Utility Business Models | 1 Response, comments now closed

EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #11: Battery Switch Model For Electric Vehicles From Better Place

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight around 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on this featured innovation, please view this video on Better Place’s battery switch model for electric vehicles.

When it comes to refueling gas-powered cars, drivers around the world have about 100 years of practice:  when you run low on fuel, you look for a gas station.  With electric vehicles (EVs) beginning to enter the market, auto manufacturers, grid operators and customers are searching for ways to ease the transition from gas to electricity.

Better Place, a venture-backed company founded in Silicon Valley, is building charging stations in several countries to serve EV customers, and has designed an innovative approach that may well become the “gas station” of the future.  Rather than refill your battery, Better Place’s automated service stations swap it out.

Better Place’s battery switch stations – which could be described as a mixture of a drive-through car wash and a Jiffy Lube service station – can extract and replace an electric car’s battery in a matter of minutes, without requiring the driver to get out of the car.  To complement the switch stations, Better Place also builds a network of standard charging stations to regularly “top off” the battery when the car is parked.

Source: Better Place

“The switching concept makes sense for several reasons,” said John Proctor, Director of Global communications at Better Place.  “Battery switch enables us to address the relatively high cost and limited driving range of EVs.  Better Place buys the battery, removing that burden and worry for drivers, and enables them to quickly switch a battery for a fully charged one to overcome concerns about EVs having enough charge for longer trips.”

Some plug-in models, like the Chevy Volt, have gas powered range extenders that give the car the per-charge range of most gas-powered cars.  But many models are powered purely by electricity.  Enabling those cars to compete with comparable gas-powered models on cost and convenience is the aim of Better Place around the globe. Read More »

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #10: Social Networking From Honest Buildings

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight more than 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

Find more information on this featured innovation here.
 
Is your office building on LinkedIn?  Can you find user reviews of your high-rise on Yelp?  Probably not, but the chances are good that you’ll be able to do both on HonestBuildings.com.

Since launching in beta on March 20, 2012, the fast growing real estate network has already aggregated detailed information on over 700,000 buildings across the U.S. From architects to brokers, thousands of real estate, construction and service companies have joined the platform, posting their portfolio of work and connecting with building owners and managers to find new business opportunities.

Honest Building's co-founder and CEO Riggs Kubiak says that the real estate market is primed for the convergence of data and community, which will lead to more transparency for all stakeholders and accelerate the adoption of high performance buildings.

“Greater transparency about building performance increases the demand for energy efficiency as tenants can make better, informed decisions about where they lease,” said Kubiak. “This accelerates the adoption of all sorts of best practices by building owners and managers in order to command the best leasing rates. From energy efficiency to leasing to design to management, buildings will have to get better, faster. This also gives the best building service providers and vendors the opportunity to scale faster, as the services and technologies with the best track record can leverage a network effect to capture more and more business.”

And when it comes to important energy innovations, tackling the building sector is vitally important.  Cars and trucks carry a lot of the blame for climate change.  But in the U.S., the building sector is responsible for nearly half of CO2 emissions, compared to a third for the transportation sector. Three-quarters of the electricity produced in the U.S. is used just to operate buildings, and that percentage is even higher globally.

There's a massive amount of factual, verifiable data about how homes and buildings operate.  This data includes square footage, energy costs, walkability – all things that people care about now more than ever.  But all this information is very hard for consumers to find and for building professionals to promote.  And there is no venue for people — designers, buyers or sellers — to interact.

"The purpose of Honest Buildings is to merge the hard facts with human interaction," Riggs said. "You can see the data on a building and weigh it against what the community is saying about it."

In San Francisco, the Honest Buildings platform is using energy benchmarking compliance data to bring together building owners, service providers and local government to create new business opportunities and more efficient buildings.  Working with the city’s department of the environment, they’ve created a custom map of all the buildings that have and have not complied with the city’s energy benchmarking ordinance, and helped building owners connect with energy efficiency companies and consultants that can help these building go above and beyond compliance.

"The introduction of real-time energy data for buildings will provide an incredible insight into how they perform," Riggs said.  "Our expectation is that developers and property managers will want to highlight their best performers and create an element of competition that will increase efficiency and sustainability.  And the better the technology, the faster that will happen."

But according to Riggs, data alone isn’t enough.  "As with all great services, there has to be a human element," he said.  "People need to be able to weigh in with their voice, and the social network aspect of our service will be just as important as detailed, trustworthy data.  Information may help us make better buildings, but people make the decisions."

Also posted in Energy Efficiency | 3 Responses, comments now closed

EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #9: Green Button Initiative

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight more than 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.
 
Find more information on this featured innovation here.

Since their introduction, smart meters and “connected" appliances have offered the potential for customers to better access and control their energy data. Tens of millions of smart meters later, there’s a massive amount of data being gathered, but few ways for customers to understand it.

A desire to make sense of this treasure trove of energy data (and a challenge by the White House to come together as an industry) was the driver behind Green Button, a voluntary effort by utility companies to bring some order and predictability to– and increase the consumer value of – the gigabytes of energy information now available.

“Armed with their own data, homeowners and building owners will have more opportunities and choices to use a growing array of online services that can help them manage energy use and save on their bills, while helping the Nation achieve the important goals of conserving energy and reducing pollution,” said Nick Sinai, a senior advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology.

The momentum sparked by the White House call to action has been remarkable.

Nearly two dozen energy providers and more than 30 energy and technology companies are already on-board.

The early and broad cooperation has resulted in more than 31 million homes and business that can already – or will soon be able to – view their consumption usage online. Developing standards for energy data is one of the most important first steps to making it a powerful tool for customers and entrepreneurs. Standards allow for the development of tools, apps and services that can apply to any customer, regardless of who provides their power.

While the White House challenge was focused on transparency and usability for customers, the effort has also sparked a lot of excitement with another group: entrepreneurs.

Imagine a smart phone app that, with a customer’s permission, monitors a home’s energy usage and patterns, analyzes the data against the home’s size, local weather patterns and other customers, and provides home improvement suggestions to reduce energy costs. Or even more simple, imagine an app that allows customers to securely control individual appliances in their home from anywhere on the planet.

Some companies are already using the initial data sets at “code-a-thons”where software application developers compete to produce prototype apps during caffeine-induced all nighters. In a similar spirit, last month EDF teamed up with the White House, Google and HonestBuildings to pull together a “data jam” at Google’s Manhattan headquarters. Todd Park, U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President, kicked of a brainstorm among tech entrepreneurs, energy experts, finance whizzes, web designers and government agencies, to answer this question: if government makes its energy data open and computer-friendly, what could entrepreneurs invent to “improve energy outcomes for families and businesses?” The jam session generated at least ten great ideas, ranging from consumer energy apps to ways to save money on your commute.

Just a few years ago, the new availability of Global Positioning System (GPS) data fueled the creation of countless GPS-based products aimed at filling that new niche market of navigation products. Today, GPS is an integral part of the explosion of mobile apps.

“Opening up access to GPS information led to an explosion of innovation and economic value, with GPS data fueling an estimated $90 billion of commercial products and services. I’m confident that energy data will similarly fuel a new wave of innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities,” said Sinai.

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #8: Clean Energy Options From NRG

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight more than 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.
 
Find more information on this featured innovation here.

Depending on whom you ask, utilities and independent power generators like NRG Energy (NRG) could be the savior or the victim of the country's future energy system. The smart grid — an upgraded electrical system that connects generators, distribution systems, homes, offices and the millions of devices that use energy — could be real trouble for traditional utilities. If they don't evolve, well, we know what happened to the dinosaurs.

And New Jersey-based NRG is making some impressive moves in an industry not known for rapid change.

Utilities have a lot to lose if they stand still and watch this wave of innovation pass them by.  But they also have a tremendous amount to contribute, and leveraging their expertise and capital could accelerate the innovation cycle and establish the generators and transmission and distribution companies as a critical piece of the electric grid of the future.

Source: Green Mountain Energy Company

In 2010, NRG acquired Green Mountain Energy Company (GME), a Texas-based business that has been providing clean energy to consumers and businesses since 1997, making it the longest serving retailer of its kind. It is still the only retail energy provider (REP) in Texas solely focused on cleaner energy. In many ways, GME can be considered a “founding father” for the renewable energy sector, owning many “firsts” in the REP market:

  • GME was Texas’ first REP to offer pollution-free products when electricity competition began in 2002.
  • GME developed Texas’ first pollution-free electricity product specifically for electric vehicle owners.
  • GME customer demand helped develop over 50 wind and solar renewable facilities in U.S., including the first utility-scale wind farm east of the Mississippi – a wind farm built in Pennsylvania in 1999.
  • GME created a program, the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club, that to date has built solar arrays to power 35 non-profit organizations including schools, museums, zoos and Habitat for Humanity homes. Each installation includes an educational component explaining the benefits of solar energy to the non-profits’ stakeholders.

GME also provides clean energy to some iconic American brands, further proving the viability of the renewable market while also leveraging visibility to encourage others to go green. Examples include the Super Bowl XLVI, Empire State Building (powered by 100 % wind energy) and Atlantic Cup (first carbon-neutral sailing race in the U.S.).

“With significant growth, customer commitment and a passion for clean energy, Green Mountain continues to accelerate a clean energy future,” said Helen Brauner, senior vice president of Marketing & Strategic Planning, Green Mountain. “Thanks to our customers who share in our mission to change the way power is made through customer choice, we’re celebrating 15 years of dedication to renewable energy this year.”

NRG is also the largest solar power developer in the country and is a leading owner and operator of photovoltaic (PV) systems at residential and commercial locations. Through the NRG Solar subsidiary, the Company is developing two complementary technologies — photovoltaics and solar thermal — at two of the world’s largest solar projects of each type: the 290 megawatt PV Agua Caliente Project in Arizona and the 392 megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California. Upon completion in 2014, Agua Caliente will be the largest solar PV project in the world and will generate enough electricity to power more than 225,000 homes.

Additionally, the Company is building the nation’s first privately-funded, comprehensive electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. The eVgoSM system integrates home EV charging docks with a network of fast-charging stations that can charge a vehicle with a 100 mile range in a half hour or less. eVgo gives EV owners range confidence as they leave home every day with a full charge and know they can charge their vehicles quickly and conveniently if they need additional range. Additionally, the eVgo set-rate charging plans reduce the upfront cost of EV ownership while giving price certainty to EV drivers for the cost of fueling their vehicles.

“Electric vehicles are beginning to make a meaningful entry into the transportation market,” said Arun Banskota, President of NRG EV Services, the operator of the eVgo network. “As the EV market grows, we need to ensure that customers have the needed charging infrastructure. Residential and workplace charging, backed up by public charging stations, are critical to encouraging greater EV adoption, and we want to provide this key piece of the new energy infrastructure to ensure car buyers can buy an EV with confidence.”

NRG’s clean energy investments cover a wide range of initiatives; it owns 450 megawatts of Texas wind power, supplying clean windpower to thousands of homes. Through its retail subsidiaries and NRG SunLease, the Company leases rooftop solar panels to commercial and residential customers to reduce their electricity costs. NRG has a partnership with the University of Delaware to develop eV2g, or electric vehicle to grid technology, that might someday pay EV drivers for plugging in their cars. NRG is also developing carbon capture technology at its Petra Nova subsidiary that could reduce carbon emissions from older coal plants in the future.

Also posted in Utility Business Models | 2 Responses, comments now closed

EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #7: Cloud Platform From Tendril

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight more than 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on this featured innovation, please view this video on Tendril's cloud platform Tendril Connect.

Solar panels. Electric vehicles. Wifi thermostats. Home security and energy management systems. More than ever, the devices we use every day have the potential to talk to each other and work together. It's what some people are calling the "Internet of things" or the “Energy Internet,” and it has the potential to put an amazing amount of control in consumers' hands.

Boulder, Colorado-based Tendril is linking all those devices — and the data they generate — together. Tendril's staff merges decades of expertise in the energy industry, software development and behavioral science with one goal: to deliver the most engaging consumer applications, so that both utilities and the manufacturers of smart goods and products can connect more closely with their consumers. Tendril hopes its software platform—Tendril Connect—will be the platform for the Energy Internet.

Just as software developers big and small are able to build apps for Windows, OSX, Android and iOS, they are also able to build energy apps for devices that may tell you the best electricity rate plan based on your usage and your utility’s offerings, or point you to changes you can make to shrink your carbon footprint.

In January 2012, Tendril opened its Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) making it possible for third party developers to leverage Tendril’s platform to create apps. More than 400 developers have registered with the company’s application developer program and more than 20 third party apps have been created—many at "hackathons".

For example, in May at The Next Web “Hack Battle” coding marathon, in Amsterdam, a 15-year old hacker used Tendril's APIs to build a prototype app that used geolocation data (GPS) to retrieve meter and customer information in order to control his home's energy usage.

"It blew us away," O'Neill said. "We gave this kid the tools, and he made a prototype in one weekend. Just imagine what teams of developers could do with a few months of work."

Source: Tendril

Tendril Connect is an open standards-based cloud platform that connects utilities, homes, applications and devices to realize the opportunities unlocked by new, smarter grids.

As more and more energy data becomes available and more and more developers use this data to create compelling apps, consumers will have increased insights, choice and control over energy management.

One example is GreenButtonConnect.com, where consumers can upload their Green Button data and select Green Button apps from an app gallery. Green Button, supported by the Obama Administration and an impressive number of companies and organizations, is literally a green button on utility customer interface websites that customers can click to instantly download their historical energy use data in a simple, standardized electronic format.

"When it comes to energy products consumers want simplicity and ease of use," O'Neill said. "But so do the innovators that will make those products. The amount of data being created by the energy system is exploding, but developers need a common language or platform to build on."

All types of companies are moving into this area, from utilities and other energy-focused companies to information technology entrepreneurs who are looking at energy issues for the first time.  The potential for profit is coming into focus, and developers want to get in early and create the Energy Internet's first killer app.

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EDF Energy Innovation Series Feature #6: The Learning Thermostat From Nest

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight more than 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on this featured innovation, please view this video on Nest's Learning Thermostat.

Imagine you were the leader of the team that developed the first 18 iPod models and the first three iPhone models, and you’ve decided to move on to the next big thing.  What will you invent next?

Tony Fadell was the leader of those teams, and when he left Apple he set his sights on reinventing the home thermostat. That’s right, the home thermostat. And his company – Nest Labs Inc. (Nest) – has become one of the hottest startups in Silicon Valley.

Thermostats have evolved over the years, and many companies now make programmable models that can adjust temperature settings throughout the day. That’s good news: residential and commercial heating and cooling accounts for nearly 40% of all U.S. carbon emissions. So improving the efficiency of heating and cooling is a critical piece of the climate puzzle and helps to lower electricity bills.

But even today’s “modern” thermostats seem to miss the mark.

“I bet your thermostat is ugly and impossible to program,” Fadell writes on his blog. “And I bet it drives you crazy.”

Source: Nest Labs Inc.

The Nest Learning Thermostat looks like an old-fashioned circular thermostat that got a 21st century facelift. You can certainly see the design approach that produced the iPod and iPhone. But what’s inside the Nest is more interesting: proximity sensors that know when you’re home, software that learns your heating and cooling preferences and wireless technology that allows you to monitor and adjust it from a website or a smartphone.

Nest says that few people use whatever programmable features their thermostats might have, and energy-conscious owners that adjust their thermostats manually (when they leave or arrive) make up to 1,500 adjustments a year. Nest’s Learning Thermostat automates those adjustments and makes them a lot easier.

“We threw out everything we know about regular thermostats and started from scratch,” said Nest’s director of corporate communications Kate Brinks. “And we ended up with a product that’s squarely focused on the user.”

Nest estimates that 90% of us don’t want to fiddle with the programming features of thermostats. So its device “learns” its owners preferences based on how the temperature is adjusted over a week or so, and then sets a schedule based on those preferences. Its proximity sensor can detect when the home is empty and when people arrive and build those patterns into its schedule.

For users that DO want a firmly set schedule, the “learning” features can be turned off. And for the growing number of smartphone owners, the device can be securely monitored and adjusted from anywhere. Brinks says that 99% of installed Nest thermostats are running an energy-saving schedule.

The smart grid, the Internet and wireless technology are creating a convergence of consumer electronics and energy. More and more of our daily activity involves devices and systems that can now be connected. Making that potential relevant, easy and even enjoyable for people will determine whether these products go mainstream and make a real impact on our overall energy use.

Nest says its Learning Thermostat is installed in every state in the US, has recently expanded into Canada and is now available at Lowe’s, on Apple’s online store and Amazon.com.

As you’d expect from a Silicon Valley tech start-up, Nest is mum on its plans for future products. “We’re 100% focused on making the simplest, most user-oriented thermostat,” said Brinks. But it’s hard to imagine that the company doesn’t have plans to reinvent a few other home-based products.

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Energy Innovation Series Feature #5: Data Analytics From GridGlo

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight more than 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.
 
GridGlo uses “data fusion” to analyze and predict energy consumption behavior.  Find more information on this featured innovation here. 
 

The smart grid industry is more than a foundation for solar energy and electric vehicles. It is also a treasure trove of information that requires a much more sophisticated way to capture, analyze and use the billions of bytes of information that a modernized grid and its many components will generate.

Add to that the massive amounts of weather, social, emissions and other kinds of data already being collected and you can see that a smarter grid is going offer lots of job opportunities to data geeks and software engineers.

Media and analysts predict that the smart grid information sector will be a multi-billion dollar market and companies are already jockeying for big data market leadership, from established IT giants like IBM and energy hardware companies like Landys+Gyr, to tech-driven start-ups like Florida-based GridGlo.

GridGlo works with utilities to integrate energy usage and behavioral data using its unique software platform to identify, score and predict energy consumption behavior. One of its products, Energy People Meter™ (EPM), provides a real-time digital fingerprint of energy behavior patterns and creates score that helps utilities (and consumers) save energy and money.

“Utilities have spent billions upgrading their metering infrastructure,” said GridGlo’s founder and CEO Isaias Sudit. “But those systems are now generating a lot of data and the utilities need help figuring out how to use it effectively. Our software allows them to save money on the infrastructure side, while providing new and exciting services to their customers.”

Utilities have long used data as a forensic tool to help pinpoint problems that happened in the past, such as blackouts. The real opportunity and challenge, according to Sudit, is moving from using energy data to tell us what has happened, to using it to tell us what is happening right now – and eventually, helping us predict what will happen in the future.

That kind of predictive analysis requires merging energy data with other data sets, like weather, lifestyle trends or demographics – a process GridGlo calls "data fusion." For example, utilities could use known demographics of likely electric vehicle buyers to better plan where infrastructure improvements are needed – before the grid is overstressed. Or national or regional demographic shifts could help utilities or regulators better plan transmission construction.

“Ultimately, all of this has to show value to the customer,” Sudit said. Eventually, he thinks data fusion will be used by third party service providers and app makers, much like mobile, location and social data is used to power some of today’s most popular products.

“But our most urgent need is to show how utilities can use this information to provide value directly to customers,” he said. “If we can do that, the secondary markets will follow.”

 

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Energy Innovation Series Feature #4: Solar Financing For Project SolarStrong

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight more than 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on this featured innovation, please view this video on solar financing for SolarCity's project SolarStrong.

Project SolarStrong by SolarCity is not only expected to be the largest residential solar photovoltaic (PV) project in American history if completed, but will also be a groundbreaking milestone for solar financing in the United States.

In November 2011, SolarCity – along with Bank of America and Merrill Lynch – announced Project Solar Strong, an ambitious five-year plan to build more than $1 billion in solar projects for privatized U.S. military housing communities across the country.  SolarCity partners with leading privatized military housing developers to install, own and operate rooftop solar installations and provide solar electricity at a lower cost than utility-provided power.  SolarStrong is expected to create up to 300 megawatts of solar generation capacity that could power up to 120,000 military homes if completed.

This project will allow privatized military housing developers to save money on energy costs that can be reallocated toward quality-of-life improvements and enhanced services for military families.  SolarStrong will also help the Department of Defense (DOD)—the single-largest energy consumer in the U.S.—secure more of its energy needs from renewable sources operated in parallel with the utility grid.

SolarStrong is expected to create thousands of full-time and temporary jobs; SolarCity hopes to provide many of these jobs to U.S. veterans and military family members, which have been among those hardest hit by the economic downturn.  SolarStrong is a groundbreaking innovation that demonstrates the long term viability of distributed solar generation and the potential for creative financing structures to significantly grow residential solar in the U.S..

SolarStrong’s original plan to secure a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) did not come to fruition, but the project was fortunately able to launch without being part of the loan guarantee program.  Aggressive, creative projects that confirm the viability of alternative financing structures, such as SolarCity’s SolarStrong, are paving the way to making affordable clean energy available on a significantly larger scale.

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Energy Innovation Series Feature #3: Smart Grid Consortium From Pecan Street Inc.

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight more than 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on this featured innovation, please view this video on Pecan Street Inc.

The last few years have been somewhat of a blur for most of the people involved in Austin-based Pecan Street Inc. (Pecan Street).

"In 2008, this was an idea on a napkin in a coffee shop," says Brewster McCracken, the holder of the napkin and now executive director of Pecan Street. "In 2010 we secured funding to launch a smart grid demonstration project. In 2011 we established the most robust collection of consumer energy use data on the planet. We want to see how people interact with new technology options. What works, what people like, what impact it has on their energy use and the grid itself."

The organization strives to ‘re-imagine’ how we make, move and use energy on our existing system rather than reinvent the system itself. It has been tagged by the smart grid industry press as one of the hottest efforts in the country.

Pecan Street, which was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2009, is an research and development consortium headquartered at the University of Texas at Austin. Its team consists of nearly a dozen staff and a web of researchers from the University of Texas and more than 10 member companies like Best Buy, Sony, Intel, Oncor, Texas Gas Service and Whirlpool Corporation. The Pecan Street board is comprised of members from the City of Austin, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the University of Texas, the UT Clean Energy Incubator, Austin Energy and Environmental Defense Fund.

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

The deployment of 100 Volts in one square mile will be among the densest concentrations of plug-in vehicles in the country.

Pecan Street was initially funded through a $10 million grant from the Department of Energy, which was matched locally with another $14 million to conduct detailed research on the consumer energy usage and the smart grid. The organization also received funding by the Doris Duke Foundation to collect "energy lifestyle" data at 15-second intervals on a disaggregated level (measures 6 circuits) on 200 homes.

Its test bed is the Mueller community, a green-built redevelopment of the city's former airport. Just two miles from downtown Austin, Mueller is one of the hottest zip codes in town for people looking for clean, green urban living. Over the course of the five-year demonstration project, Pecan Street will deploy smart grid technology — home energy management systems, solar panels, electric vehicles, new pricing models and more — in up to 1,000 homes in and around Mueller. And did we mention that Pecan Street is the world’s largest LEED-ND certified community?

So far, Pecan Street has loaded up Mueller with some remarkable smart grid stats: a third of the homes have solar panels and, by this summer, 100 Chevy Volts will be tooling around town and parking (and recharging) within Mueller's one-square-mile radius.

Greentech Media calls Pecan Street “the most ambitious EV-solar-smart-grid integration project in the United States.”

And this spring, the organization broke ground on the country's first smart grid commercialization lab, located among the homes and retail in Mueller, that will serve as a testing facility with nationally unique opportunities for commercialization, research and education.

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