Economic Development, Small Business & Startups, and Sustainability

Solar startup creates commercial line

August 8, 2014
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Solar startup creates commercial line
Electrical engineer Ed Brandel, left, and Jim Wolter, president and CEO of Energy Partners, with a Solar24 battery pack and solar panel. Courtesy GVSU

The biggest downfall to solar power energy is a cloudy day or the setting sun, but a local startup has set out to solve that problem.

Energy Partners has produced two products that allow for the use of solar power energy 24 hours a day, no matter what the weather.

Version II

Its products, Solar24 generation I and Solar24 generation II, combine solar panels and lithium-ion batteries to capture solar energy during daylight hours and store it in the on-board battery system for use whenever it's needed.

The company’s first product, Solar24 generation I, introduced last fall, was developed primarily for families in third-world countries that don’t have access to electricity around the clock to power household energy needs.

The company’s newest product, Solar24 generation II, was developed for utility and industry use.

The biggest difference between the two products is their capacity. Generation II was developed for 300-watt solar panels, while generation I was developed for 100-watt solar panels.

“I would describe the Solar24 initial version as your very basic plug it in and play, on-off kind of format design,” said Arnold Boezaart of Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center, or MAREC, where Energy Partners is an incubator business.

“This newer version, which accommodates 300-watt panels, is commercial size.”

He explained standard commercial-size solar panels measure three feet wide and five feet tall, while the 100-watt solar panels are two feet by four feet in size.

“Solar24 generation I still has merit for limited applications, if you have a basic need — electricity for some light or a portable device that isn’t too heavy with its demand,” Boezaart explained. “If you are an industry and you indicate you need significant power to help with your equipment operations, or if you are a utility and you want to supplement your energy generation with conventional fossil fuel sources or if you are a foreign country where there is no grid electrical service and you want to generate your own, then you want the Solar24 300 version.”

Boezaart said the new version could also be beneficial in natural disaster-type situations. It has the capacity to support portable solar power communication systems that traditionally have been supported by multiple lead acid batteries.

Energy control

Boezaart said one of the key aspects of the generation II version is its micro-controller.

“They custom built a micro-controller that can monitor and control every aspect of the charging process of the battery pack and the use of that energy as it comes out of the battery pack,” he said.

Boezaart said the micro-controller is particularly useful, because it can be customized based on industry or utility need.

For instance, it can be programmed to provide a surge of power if needed or to limit energy discharge.

It can also be programmed to control the speed of the charge, duration of charging and which sequence packs are charged using the different panels.

“There is a whole range of applications that can be planned for,” Boezaart said.

The micro-controller can also analyze and monitor the health of the battery pack itself, which can then alert a company if there's a problem.

Commercialization

The next step for Solar24 is getting the product to market.

Currently, Jim Wolter, president and CEO of Energy Partners, is reaching out to national and international renewable energy manufacturers and utilities across the country.

“That is one of the things we at MAREC are assisting with,” Boezaart said. “The next step becomes one of commercialization.”

Wolter has a perfect idea for who could use his product.

“Generation two should go between Marshall and Battle Creek to help Consumers Energy with extra power,” Wolter said.

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