Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Embedded Computers and Solar

The Raspberry Pi a small, inexpensive, full-featured computer  
Lately, I've been going down the rabbit hole of learning about embedded computers and it got me thinking about how these cool devices might benefit solar energy systems.  Embedded computers are essentially modern desktop computing power in a much smaller size (i.e. deck of cards) and priced in such a way that they could be almost be viewed as disposable (>$25).

My first thought was that embedded computers might control solar systems or aid with the reporting of data. Any decent residential inverter does this pretty well already with a variety of data input and outputs pre-loaded.  On the solar thermal side of things, energy metering packages could be built for well under $100 in parts which could reduce the cost of these types of add-ons for a small residential system so there could be a solid application there competing with products like the Apollo package.
A solar toaster?  Maybe not, but solar powered entertainment equipment is likely
Turning this computer-to-solar relationship on its head, solar PV might actually help make these little computers even more autonomous by cutting their power cord tether and keeping them in action almost continuously.  Think of little Roomba-like robots at home that don't need a charging station anymore.  Embedded computers don't only relate to robots but have all sorts of other applications like in home automation & entertainment systems.  PV built into these devices would not add any new load to the existing building.  Even better, these new devices could interact with energy management systems and even provide additional power back to the house when the devices aren't in use.  Quality of life continues to improve while our buildings continue to get smarter.

Whole building PV versus task-oriented, embedded solar?  Both have their applications and both versions of solar may end up working along each other very soon.