Consumers may soon have the option of purchasing a do-it-yourself rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) system at their local home improvement store that can be installed and connected to the grid in less than a day. Thanks to SunShot Initiative awardee Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE), a novel residential Plug and Play PV system may soon be commercially available.
Today, non-hardware “soft costs” -- like permitting, installation, and interconnection -- make up more than half the total cost of solar energy system. To tackle these soft costs, Fraunhofer CSE developed its Plug and Play PV system with a $5 million SunShot award in February 2013. Their innovative system comprehensively addresses every aspect of connecting a solar energy system and simplifies the processes involved to install, inspect and permit a rooftop solar energy system. This innovative solution aims to drastically reduce the current cost of PV system installation by 62%, or $4 per watt today to $1.50 per watt in 2020, in support of the SunShot cost target.
The Plug and Play PV system enables consumers to easily attach the panels to their roofs using an adhesive roof mounting system, eliminating the need for racking systems. Once the lightweight solar panels are in place, the system then self-tests for proper installation and communicates with the local utility to request permission to connect and operate. The system won’t energize until the utility company remotely grants permission to connect to the electric grid, increasing the safety of self-installation.
Northeast Utilities’ Senior VP and Chief Customer Officer Penni Conner, a Fraunhofer partner, views this project as "incredibly important because it not only addresses installation barriers, but also simplifies the interconnection process.” She also noted that the Plug and Play PV system makes “solar adoption a less complicated and time-consuming process for customers” and makes it easier for the utility to bring more systems online.
In November 2014, Fraunhofer demonstrated for the first time the ease of its Plug and Play PV system for a live audience at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Wind Technology Testing Center in Charleston, Mass., completing the system installation and commissioning in just over one hour. Once installed, Fraunhofer also demonstrated the system’s self-test process and the system commissioning from the perspectives of a homeowner, jurisdiction, and utility.
Originally planned as a five year project, SunShot recognized the rapid change in the solar market and accelerated the timeline for Fraunhofer to complete and commercialize the technologies to three years. Demonstration of a commercial-ready Plug and Play PV system is in the works for 2015.
The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) focuses on achieving the goals of the SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) success stories highlight the positive impact of its work with businesses, industry partners, universities, research labs, and other entities.