Generate Electricity Everywhere
Mar 23, 2009 - Spencer Reiss - Wired Magazine
Establishing local-scale power near end users ranks high on everyone's spec list for Grid 2.0. That's one reason Obama's stimulus plan contains a grant that will reimburse property owners for 30 percent of the cost of a solar energy system. But utilities—former monopolies, after all—are reluctant to give up control over their antique, accident-prone grid. And people with enough rooftop real estate to squeeze out serious juice balk at the hassle.
Create a new class of energy service providers that act as middlemen between power companies and large commercial facilities with big rooftops. For instance, SunEdison builds and maintains solar plants on the rooftops of operations like Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, and Kohl's in eight states. It's a win-win arrangement: Electric companies get a trusted partner in power generation, and businesses get green energy at a fixed, competitive rate—without additional investment. The secret sauce isn't photovoltaic panels; it's the networking gear, sensors, and software that let a SunEdison control room in California manage hundreds of solar sites cost-effectively. And that means it's suited for scaling up. Says Mark Culpepper, a veteran of Cisco Systems who is now CTO of SunEdison: "Generating power anywhere you can fit a panel totally changes the dynamic of the energy market." Illustration: Lamosca