N.C. State University scored a $9 million federal grant to develop a plug-and-play technology that will allow consumers to buy solar panels that plug directly into wall outlets without requiring electricians, permits and inspections.
Such solar panels would significantly bring down the price of solar photovoltaic energy, which sucks up significant costs in hardware, labor and code compliance, said Alex Huang, director of N.C. State's NSF FREEDM Systems Center. The FREEDM Center researches alternative energy applications and will conduct the research on the 5-year grant announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Energy.
"We're very excited," Huang said. "The idea is to reduce the cost."
The FREEDM Center already has on display several 200-watt solar panels that plug into wall outlets at the center's Smart House. But these panels run on direct current, or DC, whereas household electricity is converted to alternating current, or AC.
Huang said plug-and-play solar panels could be used in emergencies, power outages or on camping trips to supply power for a home or an appliance.
He said they require further work to make them acceptable to power companies, regulators, safety officials, retailers and other vendors. Such panels would likely be used with portable battery packs to collect surplus electricity.
DOE spokesman Niketa Kumar said N.C. State "will help create standard components and system design that require little or no engineering and can be installed and connected to the grid efficiently."
The N.C. State grant is part of a $21 million DOE investment called the SunShot Initiative, which derives its name from the Kennedy-era Moon Shot Program.