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2011 Excellence in Renewable Energy Awards -- Innovation

In any emerging industry innovation plays a key role in bringing about the mainstream adoption of technology. Within the field of renewable energy, researchers are constantly seeking ways to increase the efficiency and lower the costs associated with generating power from renewable sources.

Our innovation winners this year are pioneering efforts to help the renewable energy stand on its own – replacing incumbent fossil energy with energy generated by the sun and wind. Editors from the Renewable Energy World network, which includes five print magazines and four websites, selected the winners from among the five finalists in each category: innovation in technology, innovation in policy and innovation in finance.

“So many cutting-edge projects and initiatives are announced, funded, constructed and finalized each year, it’s great to take time out and actually recognize the best ones for the way in which they advance the industry,” said one network editor.

The award winners were announced and recognized on Tuesday night at the Renewable Energy World North America Conference and Expo, in Tampa, Florida. Video interviews will be conducted with the winners during the show and will be posted on in the coming weeks.

Excellence in Renewable Energy Award Winner  -- Innovation in Technology

Large utility-scale wind farms are beginning to dot landscapes all over the world adding the power of the wind to our fuel mix.  But for all the good they do, wind farms also bring with them a host of new challenges for the wind farm operators that maintain the turbines and the utility operators that are taxed with incorporating intermittent wind power onto the grid.

Logica’s Wind Energy Management System (WEMS), which was installed in Houston, Texas at the North American headquarters of EDP Renewables / Horizon Wind Energy, seeks to mitigate some of those challenges.

WEMS is a solution for centralized operation, maintenance, and real-time control of geographically dispersed wind power generation units regardless of the turbine type, substation manufacturer or communication protocol.  Its functions are based on industrial packages from Alstom and OSIsoft.

By using the system, operator can safely add increased levels of wind power to the grid while also comply with regulatory requirements. Centralized control provides the ability to balance electricity output, prevent over-and under-production, and block the network from overload situations using the curtailment function.    

WEMS offers real-time remote management so that operators can start and stop turbines or entire plants from a one location, giving them the ability to balance electricity output, prevent over-production, and block the network from overload situations.    

WEMS also provides “Downtime Allocation” functionality. Using the downtime from turbines and wind conditions at that time, the lost production can be allocated to “planned” or “un-planned” maintenance or, for example, to the OEM vendor for settlement of warranty agreements.    

Currently WEMS is implemented at EDP Renewables, with regional dispatch centers in Porto (Portugal and rest of Europe), Oviedo (Spain) and Houston (North America).  Each dispatch center manages more than 1GW of installed power capacity and new wind farms are added each month.    

WEMS represents a significant step forward in wind power operations and maintenance and for this, Renewable Energy World Network Editors have awarded it with an Excellence in Renewable Energy Innovation award in the technology category.

Excellence in Renewable Energy Award Winner – Innovation in Finance

Solar power is often criticized as being too costly to allow for mainstream adoption; however, survey after survey indicates that Americans support solar energy and want more of it.  At the same time, U.S. states put incentives in place, then immediately scale them back or alter them when market conditions change.  This makes the complex regulatory environment for solar power almost as perplexing as the financial barrier that already exists.

SolarCity was founded to address two of the biggest barriers to adopting solar energy: cost and complexity. SolarCity founders Pete and Lyndon Rive knew that in order for solar to become mainstream, companies would need to remove the barriers and provide an easy way for homeowners and businesses to go solar and they embarked upon a series of innovations to make solar power more affordable and accessible.

In 2008, SolarCity pioneered the solar leasing concept that allows homeowners to put zero money down and pay less each month for solar power than they previously paid for electricity. Today, the company says that SolarCity’s SolarLease is the most popular residential solar financing option in the country.

Since its launch in 2008, more than 7,000 customers have signed up to go solar with SolarCity’s SolarLease, out of 10,000 overall. SolarCity has also created the first full service solar company, the only company that provides financing, design and installation, monitoring, insurance and repairs to businesses and homeowners from a single source.           

For its work removing the financial and regulatory barriers that stand between the roof of American homes and solar power, SolarCity is the recipient of the 2011 Excellence in Renewable Energy Award for Innovation in Finance.

Excellence in Renewable Energy Award Winner – Innovation in Policy

Taken at face value renewable energy seeks to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy.  Yet as this industry has developed it has become clear that such a large energy transition could provide even more societal and community benefits.  Jobs, low-cost electricity from free-fuel, community building, and energy independence are all side-benefits that result from the large-scale adoption of renewable energy. 

This was the vision of GRID Alternatives, which began in 2001 during the California energy crisis.  Founders Erica Mackie, P.E., and Tim Sears, P.E., two engineering professionals who were implementing large-scale renewable energy and energy efficiency projects for the private sector, asked themselves: why is free, clean electricity from the sun only available to big businesses and wealthy environmentalists, when it should be available to everybody? 

In 2004, GRID Alternatives worked with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to launch and manage the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program, the nation’s first solar incentive program dedicated exclusively for low-income families.  The CPUC sets aside California Solar Initiative Program funds for projects installed on the homes of low-income residential customers. One of the two programs, the SASH Program represents half of that 10% fund, with a budget of $108.34 million. GRID Alternatives is the statewide Program Manager for the SASH Program.

The organization trains and leads teams of community volunteers and low-income job trainees to install solar electric systems for low-income families. These solar “barn raisings” make renewable energy practical for low-income communities hit hardest by recession, unemployment, and pollution, while engaging broad-based support for solar power as a mainstream solution for all of communities. 

Every GRID Alternatives project generates measurable, long-term financial benefits for low-income families struggling to keep up with monthly expenses; real-world, hands-on experience for local workers in the growing field of solar installation; and environmental benefits by eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.

The SASH program will serve over 6,000 low-income families by 2016, and is a national model for policymakers and regulators on how to bring renewable energy to low-income communities while integrating energy education and job training. 

For it’s forward thinking and triple-bottom-line approach, Grid Alternatives SASH program is the winner of the Excellence in Renewalbe Energy Awards for Policy Innovation.

For more on the Excellence in Renewable Energy Awards in the Innovation category, play the video below.


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