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