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Chicago's New Distributed Solar Energy Pilot Project

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Creating a revolution in the way energy is produced and shared, distributed solar energy is one of the top clean energy topics of the day.

Chicago utility company ComEd (an arm of the energy giant Exelon Corporation) has a new pilot project in this field that will outfit 100 Chicago-area homes with solar photovoltaic panels and “at least 50 of those with ‘smart’ meters, net metering, battery backup and a grid-tied status that enables them to send unused electricity from their solar energy systems back to the grid.”

ComEd Environmental and Marketing Vice President Val Jensen says that the aim is to turn each of these homes into a “mini-utility”. But the project goes far beyond that.

The selected homes will be part of a pilot program to make people into better energy consumers, teaching them how to plan electrical usage to avoid “peak” loading (i.e. using electricity when nearly everyone else is in the mornings and evenings). Doing this can help individuals to reduce their energy bills and can also help to reduce the need for expensive utility upgrades for transmission and distribution.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 is providing most of the funding for this project ($5 million), while ComEd and its technology vendors are providing an additional $3 million.

The smart grid is supposed to be extended to 131,000 homes eventually, with 8,000 being used to evaluate “advanced metering capabilities”. Advanced metering capabilities include “two-way smart metering that tests consumers’ ability to use the technology to change energy use behaviors.”

This pilot program is said to be the largest in the country “to focus on retraining electrical consumers to change their habits to reduce stress on America’s aging electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure” and will last for 12 months.

Participants will be given a range of different gadgets to help them out with all of this:

“The smart-use rollout will include about 3,100 customers using a basic energy-use display meter; 1,500 ratepayers getting a larger, touch-screen device that allows electricity monitoring and Internet access; and 400 ComEd users getting programmable thermostats that allow programming and remote control of heating and air-conditioning units.”

The program is also “the first in the world” to offer a tiered pricing approach to its pilot participants, “offering one of six electric rates; the current flat rate; rising rates based on more-than-average consumption; hourly rates based on day-ahead wholesale rates; rates sharply rising based on peak demand; a rebate for those who reduce use during peak demand; and a time-of-use rating based on peak loading and non-peak periods, like midnight to 7 a.m.”

Looks like an exciting pilot program in Chicago. Something to keep an eye on.

Image Credit 1: Stuck in Customs via flickr under a CC license

Image Credit 2: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton via flickr under a CC license


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Written By

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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