Electronics

SunPort tells the grid you want to use solar-generated electricity

SunPort tells the grid you wan...
The SunPort signals a user's preference for solar-generated electricity
The SunPort signals a user's preference for solar-generated electricity
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The SunPort uses US Solar Renewable Energy Certificates
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The SunPort uses US Solar Renewable Energy Certificates
The SunPort signals a user's preference for solar-generated electricity
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The SunPort signals a user's preference for solar-generated electricity

A new, simple device has been designed for people who, for financial or practical reasons, can't have PV panels on their rooftops, but still want to show their support for solar power and help the industry grow. The amount of electricity used to power a gadget connected to the SunPort plug is offset against solar credits, essentially making your electronic device solar-powered. Kind of.

SunPort is a demand device that its designers say is the first of its kind. Basically, it creates an economic signal of the user’s preference for solar power. This way, the user starts consuming solar credits and creating demand for solar energy, which can only be met by PV panels feeding electricity into the grid.

"There is no way to track a distinctly solar energy flow – or from any other particular source – in the grid, so solar credits are the only way to identify who uses solar energy,” SunPort creator, Paul Droege, tells Gizmag. "This is the way all renewable energy in the grid works, whether a utility green energy program or a big company like Google or Apple getting renewable energy from an installation they have built or contracted with. SunPort makes that same system work for consumers, just by plugging in."

Solar credits, or Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (S-REC), are a kind of currency designed to stimulate the solar energy market. For every megawatt-hour of solar power fed into the electric power grid, a new credit is created. Since one S-REC is reported enough for a whole month’s energy use by an average home, SunPort breaks the credits up into a microcredit unit called a SunJoule. When a SunPort measures one kilojoule of grid electricity being used, it retires one SunJoule from the system and credits the SunPort’s owner with that amount of real solar power use.

The device itself, which plugs into a standard three-pronged outlet (NEMA 5-15) and can be used to power anything up to 1,200 watts or 10 A at 120 volts, has onboard power measurement, processing, memory and communications capabilities.

The SunPort uses US Solar Renewable Energy Certificates
The SunPort uses US Solar Renewable Energy Certificates

The company’s servers communicate with the SunPort unit through the user's iOS/Android phone app and a Bluetooth wireless link. When needed, the server can also load SunJoule microcredits into the SunPort's memory, so they are available for use without a constant communication link.

The SunPort app lets the user see how much electricity they're using and contributing to the solar economy. The user can add several SunPorts to an account to have a greater impact, as well as being able to chart the combined impact of the SunPort community. The app can also measure the electricity used to charge specific devices.

The folks behind the SunPort plug stress that using the plug will not alter home energy bills, it's a means of helping the solar energy industry to grow.

"You pay your utility for the electricity, which is just generic energy," explains the company. "SunPort adds a very minor solar cost, which is not for energy but for certified information that attributes your energy use to a solar source. If you skip the information, you can still get energy but it won’t be specifically linked to solar. The information allows what we call a solar upgrade. Only with this combination of generic energy and certified information can energy from the grid be identified as renewable energy."

At the moment though, the SunPlug project is crowdfunding on Kickstarter to raise production funds and is only being offered to US backers. The latter is because the solar credits come from panels connected to the US power grid, and because each country has different safety certification requirements and it’s very costly to carry out tests for each region.

As of writing, early bird SunPorts have all gone. The next available pledge level is US$49 or more, which comes with a year's worth of unlimited free solar upgrades. After the first year, SunPort owners will need to pay $20 per plug for another 12 months of unlimited upgrades. If all goes to plan, the first SunPlugs are expected to start shipping in March 2016.

Sources: SunPort, Kickstarter

6 comments
Kaiser Derden
at night ?
thekonger
Although this seems to be a noble idea from what I can tell by this and the KickStarter page this really only supposedly lets the electric companies know you want to use solar. Well, it also makes the developers money too I guess.
This is outlined a bit in the article too, but I think for anyone who doesn't try to dissect an article carefully it is misleading. And that is confirmed by reading the forum posts of the KS page. Essentially SunPort is saying if you use our system we can generate SREC's and we will give them to non-profits to fund more solar power.
I think a better option would have been for SunPort to simply KickStart a direct donation site for non-profits that would use the money for solar energy. The KS money could be used to maintain and update the list of the non-profits that show the greatest use of their budgets towards building renewable solar energy systems as well as promoting the site.
And of course another option is you could simply donate money towards non-profits yourself: which would allow you to claim the donation on your taxes.
Or you could buy one of these kits so the developers can make money.
DanielZamir
Agree with the above comment, this amounts to an indirect donation to solar.
I would much rather buy solar bonds if this was my intention. A much better solution is to have a home battery, of the like Tesla introduced. A battery saves a large portion of electricity, and at the same time makes it easier for the utility to integrate solar.
But battery prices will drop sharply over the next 5 years so you can either pay extra now to be a first mover and fund scaling up, or wait a while and actually save money while doing good.
pauldroege
Kaiser Derden - yes, you can use SunPort day and night. It consumes solar credits (SRECs) which are only be generated from solar panels during daylight hours, but you can create demand for solar anytime.
thekonger - I know the concept is a bit confusing but you're misunderstanding and mischaracterizing it. You obviously have not done your homework, but you're quick to slam SunPort with your snarky comments.
SunPort doesn't create a control signal to power companies, just an economic signal. SunPort does not generate SRECs, it consumes them. The only way to create SRECs is to generate solar energy on real panels and feed it into the grid. Energy in the grid is just energy, not solar, coal, hydro, nuke or whatever - just energy. The only way to track solar in the grid is with SRECs, which are a non-energy commodity that proves a certain amount of solar went into the grid. When you consume an SREC with a SunPort, in conjunction with grid energy, you are in fact consuming solar energy in the fullest sense possible, within the grid. The more SRECs are consumed, the more solar panels required to create more of them. The point is to use consumer demand for solar energy to accelerate solar development.
SunPort leverages consumer demand for solar energy and causes (both directly and indirectly) more solar to be built. Whatever is plugged into a SunPort demands SRECs, which can only be supplied by real solar panels feeding solar energy into the electrical grid. One SunPort plug can employ multiple solar panels to get those SRECs. Depending on what you plug in, a single SunPort can even use as many SRECs as it takes 20 panels to produce. That’s a lot of leverage from a tiny device costing less than $50, since those 20 panels could easily cost $15-$20K.
Roughly half the money SunPort spends to purchase the SunJoule microcredits (which are derived from SRECs) is directed to building new solar for non-profits. The non-profits don't get SRECs from SunPort, they get free solar panels as the result of SunPort's solar energy purchases. Donating money to non-profits to build new solar might be a noble idea but SunPort and their backers happen among the few people actually doing it, so don't knock those efforts until you're actually putting up your own money to build free solar for non-profits.
If SunPort ever makes money from this effort, that day is long way off. Plenty has been spent developing the technology and system to support it, but it's been all outflow, not income. Lots of people talk a good game about loving solar and wanting more of it, but most have done nothing. SunPort has built something at least puts using solar within reach for average folks, even if not owning the panels. If many people join in though, SunPort will cause much more new solar to be built, which is good for all of us.
pauldroege
DanielZamir - It is true that SunPort creates an indirect support for solar, which you can call a donation if you wish. But that's a bit like saying your ticket to the ballgame is a donation to baseball, since all you take home is a memory of the game. SunPort messages your use of solar and you are using solar in the most authentic manner possible within the grid. The only more authentic way to use it is cut the wires and go off-grid.
Batteries and other storage technologies are needed and the Tesla battery is certainly a good start, but that is taking an already expensive technology (solar) and adding roughly a 3X factor to it's cost per kWh, in order to "help". We do need storage ultimately, but first we need a lot more solar. The myth of dispatch issues with solar is largely an argument pushed by utilities that want to stem their loss of customers to rooftop solar. Yes, we will need storage and lots of it before we get to even an 80% renewable gird, but that's a long way off.
SunPort creates major leverage in the way it harnesses consumer demand. A single SunPort, used to power a heavy load continuously , can demand as much solar credits in a year as it takes an entire residential rooftop system (~3-4kW) to create in that same period of time. That means (and I'll agree that this is an extreme example) a $50 device is employing $15-$20K worth of solar. Even if you scale it way back to a light, intermittent load like a computer or entertainment system, you can employ the equivalent of 1-5 panels valued at about $1,000 - $5,000. The credits SunPort runs on can only come from real panels, collecting solar energy and feeding the grid. If people buy and use SunPorts, they can create major demand for solar with relatively small and affordable actions.
thekonger
pauldroege, whoa, take your medicine crazy.
I did visit the KickStarter page and review the information. I also read up on SRECs a little and mentioned all of that in my comment so I would imagine I did 'do my homework' somewhat. When I stated SunPort says 'use our system we can generate SREC's' I meant they indicate you are are requesting solar energy and it does cause SRECs to be generated downstream. The part where I said 'we will give them to non-profits' is off base I admit, but I think the idea of me comment was pretty clear. Also I don't know where you are seeing any 'snarky' part?
Again, my point was why buy a system that amounts to a donation that is given to a solar company in such a round-about way. Buying these products helps me in no way, it's supposedly only gives some solar company assistance downstream. Fine, instead of buying this then I would just donate directly to a solar energy company and claim the donation on my taxes. The solar company and I both win.
Hence, I stand by my original comment, "a better option would have been for SunPort to simply KickStart a direct donation site for non-profits that would use the money for solar energy."