ComEd seeks homes for solar panel test

By Julie Wernau
Posted Aug. 31, 2010 at 4:57 p.m.

ComEd said will letters go out this week to single family homeowners in the innovation corridor along I-290 – which includes 130,000 customers in Melrose Park, Bellwood, Maywood, River Forest, Oak Park, Forest Park, Broadview, Hillside, Berwyn and the Humboldt Park section of Chicago – 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 allows ComEd to 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.

Commonwealth Edison’s innovation corridor is a testing grounds for “smart” devices and infrastructure the utility hopes to one day apply across its entire territory.

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

The corridor is also testing smart meters, a try-before-you-buy approach ComEd President Anne Pramaggiore says is more measured and comprehensive than that being taken by other utility companies.

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

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 to those without solar panels. Argonne’s role is to analyze electricity usage and U of I’s it 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?” Freesone said.

The 3-kilowatt systems produce about 3,400 kilowatts of electricity per year and Freestone said applicant 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 on-site inspection before installations begin in the spring. The equipment will be used starting next June.

Freestone said homes outfitted with solar panels will automatically send any excess electricity produced back to the grid and credit homeowners on their utility bill. 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.

Also 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 micro-processor relays goes online, a change smart grid manager Rich J. Gordus Jr. likens to adding a “brain” to the unmanned substation.

The newly outfitted substation can hone in on the exact location where a fault has occurred and also monitor and analyze data coming off the grid to hone in on weak points before an outage happens, Gordus said. Whereas today employees ride around in trucks after an outage looking for indicator lights at the top of electrical lines that tell them where there is 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,” said Pramaggiore.

Thanks for the interest in covering. Just one small fact-check correction. The article notes that installation of PV Pilot equipment will start in June. Actually, installation of panels and other equipment will start in early spring, and the start of use of the equipment will begin in June.

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  1. Hiedi Aug. 31, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Gee, I live in Oak Lawn in a section where the power has gone out a lot in 30 yrs. Com Ed is doing a survey here to see why were always without power, maybe they could do the trial here so were not without power 3 or 4 times a year.

  2. sadkins Aug. 31, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    SAdkins at 10:14 PM August 31, 2010
    It would be nice if they could test these solar panels in the south suburbs as well. If they do, I would be happy to volunteer my resident.

  3. Sandra Sep. 5, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    I live in Matteson and I’m willing to test the solar cells on my home.

  4. Arnold Kilikevice Sep. 8, 2010 at 10:29 a.m.

    This is in response to your “urgent reminder to act” to complete registration and home survey regarding the ComEd photovoltaic pilot. Nowhere on your site do I find such a survey to complete. Kindly respond not to my request for further information.