MAREC Tenant Issued Patent for Distributed Solar System

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A former Grand Valley State University faculty member and current tenant at MAREC (Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center) in Muskegon has been awarded a patent for an innovative distributed solar power system.

The design follows trends in all technological developments. It is part of the natural change from large, centralized systems to a system that is small and highly distributed. -- Jim Wolter, patent holder

A former Grand Valley State University faculty member and current tenant at MAREC (Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center) in Muskegon has been awarded a patent for an innovative distributed solar power system.

The patent, issued September 15, was granted to Jim Wolter, who has invented a new way to store and distribute energy from batteries that are coupled with individual solar panels.

In the past, solar photovoltaic panels have typically been paired with large, expensive batteries so the power could be stored for use at night or when the panels were not generating power. Wolter's patent covers distributed energy solutions for photovoltaic systems incorporating a battery, controller and power inverter into the core design of each panel, with a master controller to optimize the operation of the complete installation. The unique design allows each battery to either distribute or store power individually, maximizing efficiency and output.

"At its base level, this improvement to the distribution and storage of energy generated by solar cells would allow people who live without electricity in third-world countries to more effectively use battery-stored power for lighting, refrigeration or just charging a cell phone," Wolter said. "In the U.S., this system can be applied to current installations to smooth out the intermittent nature of solar power."

When each panel has its own controller, inverter and battery, it means that any size of solar array can provide stable power to either a home or the power grid, despite fluctuations in power creation caused by natural phenomenon, like clouds passing over parts of the array. The system can also maximize energy storage by directing power from the cells to the battery when loads are low, but immediately shifting to directing power to the home (and supplementing with battery power at the same time, if needed) as demand increases.

"The design follows trends in all technological developments," Wolter said. "It is part of the natural change from large, centralized systems to a system that is small and highly distributed."

Because energy is distributed on a per-panel basis, Wolter said the system is infinitely expandable, because all of the components are included in each panel, unlike a traditional system where storage and power inversion may only be sized for the initial system.

"This design is cheaper, more efficient and is compatible with any components that may be invented in the future," Wolter said. "Decentralizing the power storage solution for solar power can change the lives of people around the world if this technology spreads far and wide."

The patent is a fundamental piece of Wolter's business strategy for his company Energy Partners, and a product he's been working on as a tenant at MAREC for several years.

Tom Hopper, associate director for business development at MAREC, said the patent is an important part of the business incubator model.

"Helping our tenants develop amazing innovations in energy solutions is critical to our mission," Hopper said. "We're glad we could be part of the incubation process and help Jim push forward with his vision of a unique solution to power distribution."

For more information about MAREC, visit gvsu.edu/marec or call (616) 331-6900. You can also visit solar24.pw

Contact: Nate Hoekstra, University Communications, Grand Valley State University, (616) 331-2221, hoekstna(at)gvsu(dot)edu

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