Could PV Inverters be the Smart Grid Portal to the Home?

 Could PV Inverters be the Smart Grid Portal to the Home?

There is an entrepreneurial and venture capital rush in building out the Home Area Network (HAN).  Companies like People Power, Tendril, Google,Cisco, iControl, Lixar (bought by Gridpoint), Greenbox(acquired by Silver Spring Networks), Control4, EnergyHub, EcoFactor, et al. are all working on software and hardware pieces of home andbuilding energy management.

The millions of deployed smart meters tend to look out towards the utility.  When these meters interact withthe appliances in the home, they typically work through some hardwareand software gateway; one armed with wireless capabilities andintelligence on household behavior. 

What if there was already a piece of home electronics that containedsome intelligence on energy usage, was connected to the grid and hadsome communications capabilities? 

Startup iControl already has a piece of hardware in the home in the form of a homesecurity product.  They don’t have to worry about the high cost ofcustomer acquisition – they already have a customer.  Their ambitions of moving into the smart grid space seem logical and intuitive.

But there’s another piece of electronics starting to appear at thehome that might also have a head start as the gateway to the HAN –solar inverters.

Enphase has apparently never intended to not belimited to the DC to AC microinverter function.  Enphase hinted at their grander ambitions at Greentech Media’s Solar Summit in Phoenix lastweek during the presentation by Enphase’s CEO, Paul Nahi. (btw — lastweek was a good week for Enphase.)    

Nahi spoke of "Their Energy," the utility’s domain and "My Energy,"the energy generated and consumed within the four walls of the home.That’s where Enphase expects to play.  And where other microinverterfirms like SolarBridge are considering a market entry.

Enphase, like other HAN dashboards, envisions a product that provides control over generation and consumption with a simple web-basedinterface leveraging their existing microinverter, internet gateway,energy monitoring services and powerline communications.  Nahi sees theproduct as granular — the right size for the customer, resilient andproviding data that is actionable.

Greg Madianos, Product Line Director at microinverter manufacturerSolarBridge, said in an email, "We firmly believe that inverters willplay a central role in enabling the smart grid to incorporate largequantities of distributed generation.  Not only as an abstract concept, but with specific command-and-control functionality in mind forallowing sophisticated management of power factor and reactive power,for example, while also (at the other end of the spectrum) informing a homeowner of how much power the PV array is producing relative to thehomeowners’s overall usage as a means of moderating consumption."

There are other inverter companies looking for "grid awareness" and gridintegration such as PV Powered and Advanced Energy.  We reported on microinverter firm Petra Solar and theirutility grid monitoring capabilities here.  And at the utility scale, inverter firmslike SMA, Satcon, and GE incorporate features like lowvoltage ride through (LVRT) and the ability to compensate for reactivegrid power.