ComEd opens “Innovation Corridor”

ComEd has opened an “Innovation Corridor” near us to provide testing for solar panels and power monitoring software and systems. The equipment provided during the test will given to participants at no charge. Lets discuss how to bring this to our area and become part of the new Green Economy!

See the Tribue article below:,0,7966412.story

ComEd to install solar panels in ‘innovation corridor’

Utility looking for homeowners in key communities to test the effects of smart technology

By Julie Wernau, Tribune reporter

9:16 PM CDT, August 31, 2010

A dial on Tom Bassett-Dilley’s iPhone-like “smart meter” showed the architect’s modest Oak Park home was using 1 cent per hour in electricity. 

“Watch this,” he said. He switched on the toaster. The dial shot up to 14 cents an hour. 

“We’re pretty much ‘greenies.’ All of our bulbs are compact fluorescents. We don’t have cable, we don’t run a lot of appliances. But it has still raised our awareness a lot,” said Bassett-Dilley, one of the Commonwealth Edison customers who is tracking electricity usage in real time using the device. 

Now, Bassett-Dilley said he is looking forward to ramping up his participation in ComEd’s energy-saving project by applying to have solar panels placed on his roof. 

ComEd calls it the “innovation corridor,” nine communities along the Eisenhower Expressway and Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood that are serving as a testing grounds for “smart” devices and infrastructure the utility hopes to apply across the areas it serves. 

In the utility’s latest effort, letters go out this week to single-family homes in the innovation corridor, which includes 130,000 customers in Bellwood, Berwyn, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, Maywood, Melrose Park, Oak Park and River Forest, as well as Humboldt Park, asking for single-family homeowners to test solar panels. 

The three-year photovoltaic pilot is partially funded by a $5 million U.S. Department of Energy grant and helps ComEd install 100 solar arrays on residential homes in the corridor. The arrays produce enough electricity to power a small home and, at the end of the pilot, the homeowners keep the panels, said Maryl Freestone, senior engineer and project manager for the PV pilot. 

Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois are teaming up with ComEd on the project, which compares the habits of homeowners with solar panels with those without them. Argonne’s role is to analyze electricity usage, and U. of I.’s role is to study changes in consumer perceptions and behavior that result from owning the solar panels. 

“We’re testing, ‘What do people do when they have that technology? Does it change their choices? Does it change their habits?'” Freestone said. 

The 3-kilowatt systems produce about 3,400 kilowatts of electricity per year, and Freestone said applicants must live within the innovation corridor; have clear, south-facing roofs with few trees; and feel comfortable with computers. 

After narrowing down the applicant pool, ComEd will conduct on an onsite inspection before installations begin in June. 

Freestone said homes outfitted with solar panels will automatically send any excess electricity produced back to the grid and get credit on utility bills. A subset will be given batteries that store excess electricity produced by the solar panels to power their home in case of an outage, she said. 

ComEd President Anne Pramaggiore said the Chicago-based company is taking a more comprehensive approach in employing smart-grid technology than what is being done by other utilities by going beyond just smart meters. 

The goal is to curb electricity usage, prevent and repair outages, and allow customers with solar arrays or electric vehicles to sell back electricity from their batteries to the grid. 

“Most utilities are going deeply into one kind of technology. We’re trying to link them up,” Pramaggiore said. 

In addition to testing smart meters and pricing models that reward customers for using electricity during off-peak hours, the corridor is testing charging stations and electric vehicles beginning this fall. 

In December, an “intelligent” substation in Oak Park outfitted with microprocessor relays goes online, a change that smart grid manager Rich Gordus Jr. likens to adding a “brain” to the unmanned substation. 

The newly outfitted substation can home in on the exact location where a fault has occurred and monitor and analyze data coming off the grid to find weak points before an outage happens, Gordus said. That would be an improvement over what employees do now: ride around in trucks after an outage looking for indicator lights at the top of electrical lines that signals a fault in the line. 

“We can use the smart meters, together with information from the substation, to locate faults on the line and direct our people in focused directions,” he said. 

Also in December, automated power-line restoration devices and smart isolation switches will create what ComEd calls “self-healing” lines that correct and minimize outages. 

Other smart technology will reduce surplus voltage on distribution lines. 

“With this technology, we can monitor assets and detect problems with them before they fail,” Pramaggiore said. 

Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune