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Regulation changes could help solar power through outages

Sunverge battery backup could help in situations like SandyWeeks after subtropical storm Sandy ravaged the northeast coast, the hundreds of thousands still without power were asking if solar could be a solution.

There are a few reasons traditional rooftop solar installations might not be the answer. The first is that traditional solar installations are grid-tied and have to be turned off when the power goes out in order to protect electricians working on the lines. The other is that solar panels only produce power during the day.

But with a few modifications, solar could certainly supply homes with power through prolonged outages like the ones people are experiencing in New York and New Jersey right now. One company, Sunverge, is already on the cusp of providing a realistic solution.

Sunverge released an innovative product that integrates solar and energy storage technology in early 2011. “Our primary product is utility-centric,” said Sunverge founder and CEO Ken Munson.

It combines residential rooftop solar with a battery pack that will store enough power for four hours. Right now, Sunverge gives utilities the power to control that stored energy and deploy it on the grid when it’s most needed. “But we’re working on what we call our shrink wrap package,” Munson said.

It would be a solar and battery system that comes as a package and allows the homeowner to control how the stored power is used or trickled onto the grid. He expects Sunverge to release that package in June.

Something like that, if regulations allowed, would give homeowners electricity during the day and four hours of battery power after the sun sets that could easily be prolonged with a gas or diesel generator.

The challenge will be getting regulation and rule changes that will allow homes to be islanded in a power outage. That means homeowners could cut themselves off from the grid, or the utility could, automatically if the power goes out. That would allow them to continue powering their homes with solar and batteries without pushing electricity onto the grid where it could hurt workers trying to repair the lines. “Those regulations are starting to change,” Munson said. “And Sandy will probably be an impetus for more of that change.”

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