Fraunhofer CSE Researcher Featured Speaker on TechSandBox Panel Discussion

The Fraunhofer CSE Plug & Play PV System being installed on a test rooftop during a 2014 public demonstration.

The Fraunhofer CSE Plug & Play PV System being installed on a test rooftop during a 2014 public demonstration.

On September 15, 2015, TechSandBox, a Hopkinton, MA, start-up incubator hosted a clean tech event on smart grid trends and innovations. Sidharth Choudhary, a scientific researcher from the Fraunhofer CSE Grid Integration Group, joined Mak Joshi, Energy Management Platform Director at Schneider Electric; Bic Stevens, Founder and Principal at Stevens Capital Advisors; and Leo Ryans, Market Executive at Environmental Health and Engineering Inc. on a panel, The Smart Grid: Just how smart is it?

The goal of the panel was to not only explore the idea of the quickly evolving smart grid, but also discuss shortcomings in its current implementation with a special focus on the proliferation of distributed energy resources. Stevens kicked off the evening with a wide overview of challenges and opportunities at the grid edge and highlighted the challenges faced by utilities in transitioning from a highly controlled centralized grid to a distributed one. Ryans added prosumer (producer + consumer) concerns and difficulties to the discussion, pointing out the delays and cost issues faced by solar homeowners.

Schneider’s Joshi proposed microgrids as a solution to the many problems that had been raised because microgrids enable aggregation of multiple distributed resources in a geographical area making them easier to predict and control. Joshi emphasized the increased reliability offered by microgrids including the ability to island from the grid during faults or when retail energy prices are high. He narrated experiences from Schneider’s own microgrid projects and pointed out the regulatory lacuna surrounding microgrids in most parts of the country and the slow utility interconnection approval processes.

The slow interconnection process and other concerns of energy prosumers is well understood by Fraunhofer CSE. The Fraunhofer CSE Plug & Play PV Systems, funded by the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, aims to resolve these issues and help drive down installed costs of solar energy systems to $1.50/watt by 2020.

Fraunhofer CSE’s Choudhary spoke about the Plug & Play PV Systems framework as a comprehensive and immensely scalable solution to enable ease of installation of solar systems in residences, and at the same time provide an accurate picture of the distribution system to the utility. He highlighted the electronic Permitting, Inspection and Interconnection (ePI&I) process designed to reduce ambiguity and time required for these processes, which are a major driver of soft costs. Apart from easing prosumer concerns, he pointed out the increased advantages reaped by utilities and AHJs (Authority Having Jurisdiction) by having such a system, such as increased safety through electronic self-testing of the system and a clearer picture of all solar systems connected to the feeder. Choudhary also laid out ideas towards a ‘smarter’ grid, achievable through technologies like the Plug & Play PV Systems, to enable deep integration of multiple resources (PV, storage and demand management) in a single residential system that can be planned, installed, and commissioned with minimal effort, providing clearly defined, visible benefits to consumers and utilities.

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