Backed by the team from Digi Wireless Design Services, E-GEAR has developed its innovative Energy Management Controller to help homeowners, business owners and utilities optimize and standardize the storage and transmission of energy captured from photovoltaic cells and other alternate-energy sources. The result: a smarter, more efficient way to improve the use of clean, renewable energy.
Designing a Brighter Future
In Hawaii, where most goods and supplies arrive by cargo ships, energy resources – particularly fossil fuels – are both expensive and challenging to manage. Owing to factors including tourism and military presence, Hawaii is the most fossil-fuel-dependent state in the U.S., leaving it more vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices and availability. But Hawaiians are eyeing a brighter future, one that relies solely on renewable and alternative fuels like solar and wind power. In fact, the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative aims to transition the 50th state to 100% clean energy by 2045.
This forward-looking effort is creating opportunities for innovative companies like E-GEAR, LLC, a renewable energy specialist that offers patented and patent-pending energy management and storage solutions. According to Chris DeBone, Co-Founder/Managing Partner, the E-GEAR solution responds to the challenges of solar power that Hawaii and other states face. “Unlike fossil fuels, renewable-energy generation is subject to some variability,” he said. “It can be as simple as the wind dying down or clouds passing overhead, decreasing the energy a photovoltaic cell can generate. This results in hundreds or thousands of homes and businesses pushing or pulling energy into or from the grid at unpredictable quantities and times. Loads can also vary dramatically, such as when a central air conditioners, water heaters or electric car chargers turn on and off.”
“The utilities and energy services companies want to provide and receive power on a predictable basis or when called upon to support the overall grid, and that’s where we can help – by offering a solution that can manage renewable energy at each site autonomously using pre-determined criteria or in concert via aggregated control.”
A Connected Solution to Optimize Solar Energy
Aiming to collect and distribute solar energy more efficiently, E-GEAR developed the proprietary Energy Management Controller (EMC). This device uses a range of voltage and current-measurement sensors to monitor and control the storage of solar power into a local battery and then subsequently manages the release of that energy into the residence or back into the electrical grid in the smooth, controlled manner that utilities desire.
The EMC includes proprietary software that calculates energy flow and compensates for real-time fluctuations in solar generation and home consumption, to either capture excess energy or put out enough power to the grid to smooth out the variations in generation/consumption. The EMC also includes cloud connectivity and dashboard controls that enable both the homeowner and electrical utility to see real-time data, remotely control the system, and take appropriate actions.
With this smoothing function, entire neighborhoods can act as distributed generation and storage sources for the electrical utility. This reduces the utility’s need for excess generation capacity and variances in voltage on the grid. “Competing systems don’t have the EMC’s novel ability to smooth the energy export to the utility grid and enable the utility to control the home export to meet real-time energy demand,” said Steve Godmere, Co-Founder/Managing Partner.
Moving Forward to the Future
E-GEAR first met with Digi Wireless Design Services (WDS) at the very start of the project to sketch out ideas, formalize product needs, and design the hardware and software to meet those requirements. “After the whiteboard sessions where we discussed the tradeoffs of various choices, Digi helped us identify the best wireless components, microprocessor, electrical monitoring components and cloud technology to bring the system from the drawing board to reality,” said Steve. “We didn’t have the engineering resources to develop our ideas, so Digi’s expertise was especially valuable.
“In particular, our communications strategy encompassed cellular, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, RS-485, USB, and Zigbee connections. Digi’s consultants provided the wireless expertise, software development, and hardware design to help us launch this product.”
“We were able to provide 12 alpha units that were fully functional prototypes in just 15 weeks,” said Josh Jaeger, Director of Digi WDS. “We were testing and improving the control algorithm and cloud communications very quickly. Digi Remote Manager provided E-GEAR with a highly functional cloud interface right away. And the way the EMC leverages Digi’s embedded processor module, the Digi ConnectCard™ for i.MX28, also accelerated the hardware and software development.”
Digi also collaborated with one of the manufacturers of their battery-storage systems to modify their existing inverter product to provide the tightly-controlled export of energy back into the electrical grid.
Using E-GEAR’s EMC, distributed energy generators can automate generation smoothing, storage, export, and ancillary service participation. Asset management and energy service companies enjoy aggregated real-time visibility, control and data collection, while utilities can leverage real world, edge-of-grid data for modeling, demand response confirmation, and incentive design.