SunWave solar power systems are attached to utility poles, where they can gather sun power as well as provide a point of data gathering for utility companies to monitor the grid. | Photo courtesy Petra Solar
Winning awards, creating jobs and implementing a unique approach to creating energy — that’s what one New Jersey company is all about.
Petra Solar, of South Plainfield, N.J., was named the Clean/Green Company of the Year by the New Jersey Technology Council last year. The selection was based on the company’s SunWave technology that combines solar energy with enhanced smart grid functions.
The innovative systems attach directly to utility poles throughout the state, performing two distinct functions. The devices not only generate energy through a solar panel that feeds into the grid, but also they are equipped with communications capabilities that provide utilities with an energy snapshot of power passing through the grid at that location. This allows utilities to better deal with the demand for energy.
“We provide utilities with a view of the grid, so when you talk about a smart grid, we’re truly helping utilities to be smarter,” Evan Vogel, general manager, says. “We also create a backbone for communicating between our systems and other devices as well, such as smart meters, to send their data over our network — the system very flexible.”
These systems allow utilities to detect problem areas. When energy is transmitted a great distance, there’s a distinct efficiency loss. When energy is generated locally there is a notable increase in efficiency.
“With the SunWave system, not one penny of grid infrastructure has to be updated to place 40 MW of solar generation on the grid,” Evan says.
That energy will be generated by an expected 200,000 installations in New Jersey under a $200 million contract with PSE&G during three years. About 25,000 SunWave panels are already in operation.
In addition to its utility work, last year, Petra Solar became the first business awarded funding under New Jersey’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Fund. That same month, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the company a multi-million dollar grant to perform research on the evolution of intelligent solar energy on the grid.
The company’s successes with its groundbreaking technologies are contributing to more awards and outstanding job growth. In addition to the aforementioned award, Petra was also named the Energy Innovator of the Year by the DOE in 2009, Market Innovator of the Year by the N.J. Board of Public Utilities in the same year and just this year was named a top 50 green startup by Greentech Media. Last spring, about a dozen people worked for Petra. Now, more than 130 employees are contributing to the clean energy economy with more hires expected soon.
“One of the things we are most proud of is putting people to work through new job creation,” Evan says. “And it’s many functions, from factory workers to engineers, sales and marketing, and other areas such as HR — it’s job creation across the spectrum, and we’ve attracted very talented and dedicated people who share our excitement about the growth ahead.”