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Published on August 11th, 2015 | by Guest Contributor


How SunPort Delivers Solar Energy Without the Panels

August 11th, 2015 by  

By Mateo Neri

At of the end of 2014, the amount of electricity from solar power being generated in the US was only 0.8% of the total energy mix in our electrical grid. Last year, nearly 645,000 US homes and businesses were using power from the sun. That’s like saying every person in Nashville, TN, was using solar. It’s not much.

Today, fossil fuels still dominate. However, the revolution is only now picking up steam.

SunPort Solar Energy Graphic

In fact, if we continue on at our current growth rate, the US Energy Information Administration estimates that solar will grow from what you see in the chart above to about 3% of our grid energy mix coming from solar by 2040 (note that the chart above doesn’t account for rooftop solar power). President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, announced last week, seeks to “drive more aggressive investment in clean energy technologies than the proposed rule,” with the hope of boosting all renewable energy generation by 2030 by 30%. Yet, even with these measures, non-renewables will still dominate our energy mix.

For solar to truly thrive, everyone needs to use it. However, many people either do not own their roofs or still cannot afford to purchase systems. Things like zero-down solar PPAs are helping that, but today most people are simply locked out of participating in solar energy,” says Paul Droege inventor of the SunPort. “The expense of solar panels and required ownership of a roof limit solar’s growth.”

The SunPort smart device plugs into the wall between the electricity grid and your powered devices, serving as a portal to the solar energy on the grid. SunPort is the world’s first smart grid solar delivery device, instantly providing 100% solar for anything it is used with.

“We are democratizing solar and bringing this clean energy to the masses,” Droege says. “SunPort is putting the power of choice in people’s hands, giving everyone the ability to choose renewable over traditional energy, while creating demand for more solar projects to be built.”

Whenever you plug into SunPort, the power you get from it is automatically upgraded to solar through the company’s proprietary smart grid technology. It tracks the energy you use through it to power your devices and matches that up with real solar production out there in the world. It does this by leveraging the same solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) market that large corporations use to reduce their carbon footprints. More on that later.

Solar panels are still required to make this solar energy, but you don’t need to own them. SunPort’s platform lets you access expensive solar infrastructure, just like how your smartphone runs on the (very costly) mobile network you don’t own.

Using SunPort does not mean you have to pay for your power twice. Whoever pays the power bill is paying for standard grid power. SunPort simply adds a small additional cost that provides the solar upgrade, which also pays to help support new solar farms feeding even more solar into the grid. This upgrade cost is considerably less than standard grid power, since it’s just for the upgrade and not the electricity itself. As an example, a month’s solar upgrade for your laptop from a SunPort will cost no more than $2 extra, and even less than $1 for many people.

But, for backers of the current Kickstarter campaign, the SunPort comes with the first year’s solar included in the cost of the hardware. So no matter how much you use your SunPort the rest year, there will be no extra cost for the solar upgrade.

“After that, we expect unlimited solar will cost no more than a few of dollars a month, but we also plan to offer ways for people to get it for free,” says Droege.


How Solar RECs Work with SunPort

Any device, be it your phone or gaming console, plugged into an enabled SunPort consumes solar energy without requiring any additional steps. SunPort simply measures the power from the wall and automatically matches it against SRECs through SunPort’s technology platform. The third-party, transparent accounting of these SRECs guarantees the energy you use through the device is real, validated solar energy.

In the late 1990s, the government created renewable energy credits (RECs) as a way to separate renewable from non-renewable energy. Serving as tradable environmental commodities, RECs represent proof that 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity was generated by an eligible renewable energy source. A certifying agency gives each REC a unique identification number to make sure it doesn’t get double-counted.

SRECs were created for businesses and average people to buy power specifically from solar providers. All power coming out of your outlet is undifferentiated as to its sources, but money goes to a solar power producer when you buy an SREC.

Today, SRECs are primarily used to help fund a portion of new solar projects. Additionally, they are sold in very large quantities and at prices considered unattractive by many consumers. For that reason, SunPort works with the non-profit ReChoice to break down SRECs into more manageable pieces or micro-credits it calls SunJoules.

Partnering with ReChoice and using SunJoules is unique to SunPort, but the underlying operating principle of the SunPort platform is spelled out by the US Department of Energy (DoE) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is based on RECs, which are the only way to legally and legitimately claim use of any grid-connected renewable energy. This process matches energy use against a solar energy supply (using SRECs) in strict accordance with what the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires to claim use of solar energy.

Moreover, for each dollar ReChoice spends to acquire SRECs, it spends a matching dollar to install new solar on other nonprofits, which get free electricity from those installations. That way, each SunJoule micro-credit upgrades a little bit of power today, helps add a little more new solar production to the grid, and aids in powering worthy nonprofits for years to come.

“The use of micro-credits through a SunPort, multiplied by many users, over time causes a lot of good,” adds Droege.

So, in a nutshell, SunPort tracks the energy you use, then syncs your account up with micro-credits to upgrade your grid energy use to solar, based on the well established and regulated SREC market. Once SunPort’s Kickstarter campaign is funded, the SunPort app will be developed so users will be able to track the energy they use.

“We’re reinventing how people perceive and use solar with SunPort. By making it more accessible and affordable, we’re empowering everyone to create a healthier solar powered world.”

About the Author: Mateo Neri mateo is an entrepreneur faculty member at Art Center College of Design. He launched the Art Center entrepreneurial initiatives and has co-founded many start ups, including URB-E. The product is the world’s most compact e-vehicle that is small enough to fit in between your legs while sitting in a train, bus or car. The URB-E crowdfunding campaign raised over $317,000, reaching 212 percent of its goal.

Full Disclosure: This article was not sponsored in any way. We just think it’s an extraordinarily cool product/campaign.

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  • David H

    “Every dollar you spend, or don’t spend, is the vote you cast for the world you want.” – L.N. Smith

  • Mongo

    Doesn’t make sense. In most cases you can simply specify (usually at a significant premium) renewables power purchase(s) typically from a number of sources, from your power provider. No hardware costs at all.

  • Cicero_68

    All power coming from the electricity grid is the same, there is no way a device on the customer side can “upgrade power to solar”.
    If you want to support renewable, select a provider that guarantees the origin of the electriciy (solar, wind, hydraulic, whatever).
    A device that is supposedly a “portal to the solar energy on the grid” is just a scam.

    • GCO

      You seem to be unfamiliar with the notion of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). Here’s a link to the explanation from the EPA, or see its video on the topic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_12VYXms6-c

      The energy and its “solar” quality can (and often are) being sold separately, so a device like the one described here certain can do exactly what it claims.

      • Joe

        The device is FAKE! It doesn’t do ANYTHING, it CAN’T!
        You can not “order” any kind of electricity from a wallplug. It does not have any kind of internet connection, upstream or “grid connection”.

        Read what Wikipedia says about RECs:
        “The purchasing of a REC is equal to purchasing a claim to the
        environmental attributes of renewable electricity generation without
        purchasing or consuming the clean electricity itself. The clean
        electricity may have been inserted on a grid that is not connected to
        the grid to which the final user of the REC is connected.[3]
        Therefore it cannot be said that the user is in any sense consuming the
        renewable energy itself. REC purchase does not affect how much
        renewable energy was actually generated – only who gets credit for using
        certain renewable energy that is being generated.

        So MAYBE you pay money to somebody who generates green energy (hopefully), but the device itself is just a fake. I bet its only part a green LED. You will get the energy from the source the provider buys.

  • bill_christian

    The elaborate system of subsidies for renewables is not very effective and not fair. The answer is very simple. Put a really substantial tax on all fossil fuels, with a solid schedule of increases. Coal is dirt cheap but you permanently degrade the atmosphere a little bit with each pound. We should be fined for that damage. Then coal gets expensive, too expensive. Use other stuff: PV, wind, whatever, but not coal. Or use less electricity. It is logical and fair and it focuses like a laser on the true problem – burning fossil fuel. Giving me an ice cream cone for using solar does not strongly and effectively make me stop using coal and gasoline too, if it is cheap and so tempting. TAX CARBON: it is the only way we can succeed in this epic life-and-death campaign.

  • GCO

    I really like the concept, but not the disingenuous to dishonest way its promoters portray direct solar (like, actually owning a PV system).

    There’s also two points on which they’re anything but transparent:
    • How much are users charged per kW⋅h for its “solarization”?
    • For each $ paid, how many actually go towards buying SRECs?

    Given the way the SunPort makers elude those important questions, especially the first one, I can’t help but become a bit suspicious of their true motivations. Too bad, because I otherwise dig the idea.

  • Omega Centauri

    If this concept works, it would make sense to create a windport and a geothermal port. These later forms are difficult for individuals and small organizations to participate in.

  • aggri1

    Where I am I can already choose to buy what is called GreenPower, in any amount I choose (from 0% to 100% of my electricity usage), without requiring a plug-in dongle. The power company then has to purchase the Renewable Energy Certificates to cover that usage, in what seems to be the same manner as is proposed here.

    Perhaps this thing will be useful in backwards areas where no electricity offering involves renewable energy…

    • Omega Centauri

      Its a different way of accounting. Maybe some people are comfortable buying traditional GreenPower (as a percent of total usage)? Maybe others for whatever reason are thinking that more frivolous uses like watching a big screen TV should be offset, but not nonfrivolous uses, such as having hot water or whatever. Its a way to expand the overall size of the GreenPower market.

    • About half of the states in the USA permit competition at the consumer level for power generation. I presume that in those states, “green” plans are a popular marketing option.

      In Texas, for example, the renewable content of each plan must be clearly labeled by law (the current state-wide average is 10.8%), and both 100% wind and 100% renewable energy (through REC purchases) are readily available at competitive prices. The state-run on-line market, power to choose dot org, makes renewable content one of the primary filters by which to search for plans along with estimated power consumption, company complaint scores, pre-paid and post-paid plans, time of use plans, and variable vs fixed rate plans.

      Works great. Highly recommended.

    • hhl

      I can also buy green power from the utility and I do but it is not guaranteed to be solar. It is a combination of wind, solar and other stuff like biomass.

    • juxx0r

      We had that. Then when the Carbon tax came along, they said ” y’know that green power we’ve been charging you extra for, well we can’t say it’s carbon free so we’re now going to charge you the carbon tax on top”

      One of the reasons we hate them.

  • coldfish2

    this makes very little sense. If I send $10 to a solar power facility once a year, I’d be doing more.

    Maybe we could do the opposite. Put everyone on the Renewable fuel rate, but offer to sell consumers a big ugly black adapter labeled COAL, which would save you $10/year.

    • GCO

      Putting everyone on renewables is what this Californian municipal utility did [link].

      They already had lots of customers on green power plans, but as the cost of renewables keep getting lower, they could no longer justify charging them extra. So they stopped. 🙂

      As I don’t think this utility even has a non-green option anymore, a “CoalPort” may indeed be the only recourse of users who absolutely want dirty electricity now. It’d cost more though, not less.

  • Andrew

    Another use for this technology would be as a way to monitor electricity usage where installing a separate meter is cost prohibitive. An example would be to install it in an apartment building that already has a standard 110v outlet where the vehicles park (in winter climates for block heaters) but will not allow PHEV or BEV vehicles to be plugged in. You could use the kw/h tracked by this device to then determine how much power you used and pay the apartment owner the kw/h rate by the number of kw/h tracked by this device, who knows maybe this company could facilitate the billing end of it for the apartment owners.

  • Marion Meads

    Profiting by pressing on our guilty button. How despicable! And investors loved it, to make money out of nothing at all.

    • Omega Centauri

      I think you don’t understand it. The premium you pay results in monetary incentives to build new solar. I once bought a renewable energy credit, which did this. As long as cash is flowing from consumer to a project developer who builds the appropriate increase in PV buildout, it all works out.

      • Coley

        Just go for a provider who guarantees your electricity comes from 100
        % renewables! Ecotricity here in the UK does that, though I’m not happy that they source some of their supplies from Nuclear and even worse ‘biomass’
        But they are promising to use profits generated to invest in PV and Wind and move away from Nuclear and hopefully biomas.
        Nowts perfect but,hopefully by making informed decisions, we can destroy the worst of the FF lot in the near future?

        • Omega Centauri

          If someone doesn’t want to do that, or iyt isn’t available, this is just another to partially do the same thing.

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