Department of Energy

Smart Meters Help Balance Energy Consumption at Solar Decathlon

September 28, 2011

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The Team Tidewater Virginia smart meter, as seen on opening day, indicates the team generated 5 kW hours of electricity in the first several hours of the competition. | Image courtesy of Lachlan Fletcher, Studio 18a

The Team Tidewater Virginia smart meter, as seen on opening day, indicates the team generated 5 kW hours of electricity in the first several hours of the competition. | Image courtesy of Lachlan Fletcher, Studio 18a

Clouds, rain, thunderstorms… at Solar Decathlon Village? Oh my, you may say. But less-than-ideal weather conditions are no match for this year's teams, thanks to smart grid technology that is helping them monitor their energy consumption. As Solar Decathlon blogger Carol Anna found out, this technology, as well as having a good "weatherperson" on the team who helps predict potential generation, are key to a team's strategy and success.

Anna checked out the smart meters teams are using -- one of the many new technologies that are helping integrate variable energy sources, such as wind and solar, onto the grid. The meters are particularly important for teams since one of the 10 contests is Energy Balance, in which teams aim to only produce as much energy as they consume. The contest measures each house's net energy consumption over the course of the competition. (Check out a graph of the overall village consumption). 

From the Solar Decathlon blog, Anna writes:

The Energy Balance Contest simulates how most residential solar electric systems work today. Each team house is equipped with a bidirectional utility meter that enables power flow to and from the electric utility. When the sun shines, the house’s solar electric system produces electricity. If the system produces more electricity than the house needs, the excess electricity flows backward through the meter to the grid. 

At night, when the solar electric system is not producing electricity and the refrigerator is running, for example, the house consumes electricity from the grid, and the meter runs forward. To achieve a zero meter reading at the end of the competition, the solar electric system has to produce as much energy as the house consumed.

“In 2011, we changed the rules to reduce the incentive for producing a surplus amount of energy,” said Richard King, Solar Decathlon director.  “Instead of awarding bonus points for excess electricity generation, like we did in the 2009 competition, we are rewarding teams for producing only what they need.”

Read the full blog entry here.

Smart meters, such as those used in the Solar Decathlon competition, are now being used across the U.S., in addition to numerous advanced technologies that address such areas as grid optimization, automated distribution, demand response and energy storage. Smarter technology allows for reliable management so there's no major disruptions if the wind doesn't blow, or the sun doesn't shine. 

Check out this diagram to learn more about how a Smart Grid enables integration of renewable energy sources.

For example, across the western half of the United States, where there are rich wind resources, Recovery Act funding is supporting the deployment of synchrophasor devices by the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) and eight of its member transmission owners.  These devices will allow faster, more precise monitoring of the "pulse" – the flow of electricity – of the grid.  Additionally, synchrophasors allow for earlier detection of problems that threaten grid stability or cause outages. 

To learn more about modernizing our grid for the 21st century, visit SmartGrid.gov, and to get the latest on the Solar Decathlon 2011 Contest, check out SolarDecathlon.gov.