Electronic Design

Commercial Solar Power And The Smart Grid

In the popular media, much of the focus on Smart Grid interactions involves consumers, both domestic and commercial. But a recent study by the Gartner group points out that the value-added that will drive investment comes from companies that trade electricity as a commodity.

Supporting that notion, “The U.S. solar power purchase agreement (PPA) market will grow to reach an estimated $8 billion in new photovoltaic solar power generation installations by 2013, up from an estimated $700,000 in 2009,” say the firm’s market analysts (see “Gartner Says U.S. Solar PPA Industry Growth Will Create New IT Revenue Opportunities—Traditional IT Value Chain Vendors Should Act Now to Capitalize on Future Market Growth” at www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1243413).

“The U.S. solar PPA market is driving new revenue for IT vendors for communications and computing equipment, including data mining and integration software,” Gartner also notes. The analysts recommend that in 2010, software, hardware, and IT services firms should develop go-to-market strategies for the renewable industry, “with a particular focus on the independent power producer (IPP) firms that are developing the U.S. photovoltaic (PV) systems.”


Gartner research director Al Velosa observes that the U.S. PV market will be driven by IPP firms using solar PPA contracts. He also predicted that the IPP portion of the U.S. PV market will have a compound annual growth rate exceeding 100% through 2013 and that in 2013, IPP firms will install PV systems in the U.S. with an energy generation capacity of 2.9 GW, at a cost of $8 billion.

The boost is expected to come as the U.S. PV solar PPA contract market moves away from its present base of commercial and residential end customers and toward a core focused on utility end customers. The Gartner report says that “In particular, the market will have a foundation on substation-scale PV projects—specifically those between 10 MW and 30 MW.”

One gating item on the software side, Gartner analysts say, is the need for data standards to improve the interaction and management of PV systems. Initially, those standards will cover how to collect data at the inverter and even at the panel level. “Next steps will include ensuring data protocols and standards for integrating with the utility firms’ generation planning software tools,” Gartner says. In this area, the analysts point to the work of the SunSpec Alliance, a new consortium (www.sunspec.org).

On the hardware side, Gartner advises semiconductor and communications and computing firms to work with inverter and panel manufacturing firms to integrate their semiconductor and communications solutions into field equipment. Velosa provides more analysis of the issue on the Gartner YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5n7_QhNMxA.lic-2. The Department of Energy’s 2003 GRID 2030 report and EPRI 2009’s recommendations to NIST are key documents in understanding the opportunities presented by the Smart Grid.

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