Gulf Power 'SHINES' the Light on Latest Smart Home Technology

Self-driving cars are becoming a reality. Hot on their bumpers are homes that self-drive the demand for and storage of renewable energy.

Two of Gulf Power’s west Pensacola customers testing “SHINES“(Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar photovoltaic (PV) now have fully integrated battery energy storage systems and a local controller working to make their homes two of the smartest along Florida’s Gulf Coast.


This project, led by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), has been using these homes as a demonstration site since 2016 to test new and integrated distributed energy resource (DER) technologies for residential use and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO), Southern Company, and Gulf Power.

The SHINES project installs a battery on the utility’s side of the meter to control when and how much solar is sent to the grid. This approach saves the customer from having to invest in and install their own battery systems, which may be cost-prohibitive for many consumers.

The team connected a distributed battery energy storage system that integrates with the homes’ solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, weather forecasting, and smart controllable loads with an onsite computerized controller, developed by the EPRI-lead team, to adjust the homes’ energy use from heating and cooling systems, pool pumps, and water heaters to sync with the solar generation.

“The satellite weather forecasting technology detects approaching clouds and the controller uses that information to determine how to manage the loads in the homes,” said Kimberly Blair, Gulf Power spokesperson. “It can adjust the thermostats to precool the home, preheat the water heater, or turn off the pool pump in anticipation of the solar generation dropping off with the storm overhead. While the storm passes over, the customers’ excess renewable energy stored prior to the storm in the battery, takes over the home’s energy demand.”

Dr. Aminul Huque, EPRI’s principal technical leader on the project, said the installation of the battery energy storage system and energy management controller marks a major milestone in the SHINES project.

“With the key technologies in place, we will study how these systems perform together, and quantify the benefits and costs for customers and the grid,” he said.

This type of integrated and smart system could save customers money on their energy bills.

“This system allows customers to use more of the energy their PV systems generation with less impact on the grid,” said Blair. “Most solar is generated when the customer is not home, in the middle of the day while they’re at work, but their demand for energy increases when they’re home at the end of the day, typically when solar energy is not being generated. The battery energy storage system can store that extra energy that can be used when demand increases.”

One of the homeowners, Glenn Holmes, said he has watched his power bill drop with the first phase of the project, and he is looking forward to seeing even greater savings with the battery storage system added.

“I believe in renewables and there are fantastic benefits to this integrated technology,” he said. “If you’re smart about how you use your energy, you can cut your energy bill in half, easily.”

Gulf Power is also gaining insight into ways to overcome the challenges of adding a growing volume of solar to the energy grid, which was not designed to handle large amounts of distributed and variable generation.

“In the future, there could be benefits of having multiple, distributed battery storage systems throughout the service area to provide energy to all customers during periods of high demand,” Blair said.

Pensacola is one of three test sites in EPRI’s SHINES project integrating solar PV systems, energy storage, and controllable loads. Knowledge-sharing among research teams will greatly advance the technology.

For instance, Ohio-based Intwine Connect developed the power management controller. Virginia-based PowerHub Systems developed the battery energy storage system, and Pensacola-based SunFarm installed the equipment, giving the research and development team an opportunity to work with industry experts to broaden their knowledge of the emerging technology.

Dr. Huque said Gulf Power has played a significant role by hosting the site and providing logistical and technical support.

“This project speaks to the power of collaborative R&D. The technical and logistical support we have received from Gulf Power and other project stakeholders is key to demonstrating and quantifying the benefits and costs of an integrated grid.” Huque said.

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