You have solar panels on your rooftop, a digital thermostat on your wall and a heating and cooling system throughout your home — why not connect the whole lot of them? That’s what Enphase Energy, a company that makes microinverters for solar systems, has done. On Wednesday the company is showing off “Environ,” what they are calling the world’s first “solar-integrated smart energy device.”
I like the idea of being able to track the energy output of your solar panels, while you’re turning up and down your air conditioning. It could really lead to regular everyday engagement from the user.
The smart thermostat works by connecting to a gateway device via the wireless protocol ZigBee and then to the Internet and Enphase’s website. To take full advantage of the solar tracking capabilities, you also need Enphase’s solar microinverter system that converts the direct current (DC) flowing out of solar panels into the alternating current (AC) used by the electric grid.
Enphase’s core business, and innovation, is around the microinverter, which does the DC to AC conversion at the level of an individual solar panel, rather than at a large central conversion device. A centralized converter is vulnerable to one failure taking down the whole system, and the weakest panel in a solar array can drag down the efficiency of better-performing panels. Eventually Enphase wants to embed its microinverters directly into solar modules so that the two are sold bundled to installers.
Decentralized conversion could be the future of solar panels. Enphase’s investors think so, and back in June the four-year-old Petaluma, Calif.-based company raised a $63 million round that included VC heavyweights Kleiner Perkins, and which pushed the company’s total fundraising upwards of $100 million.
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