Tech startup adds brain to solar systems

Chief executive Jay Marhoefer (right) and president Paul Gazzolo at Intelligent Generation's IIT labs.

One of the first startups to participate in the Illinois Smart Grid Cluster is preparing to field-test its method of reducing the cost of solar energy.

By adding its proprietary software to battery-equipped solar energy systems, Chicago-based Intelligent Generation hopes to enable utilities and solar installers to reduce by half the cost of alternative energy systems for their customers, said Paul Gazzolo, president and founder of Intelligent Generation.

The system would require no money down from users and come with a backup battery equipped with the company’s intelligent software. The software automatically switches a building’s power supply from solar to grid to battery based on lowest cost, Gazzolo said.

Energy at a reduced rate

 “The battery will store energy when the cost is cheap during the night or when the solar panels are cranking it out during the day” and unleash it as needed at a reduced rate, Gazzolo said.

As a result, users could recoup their solar energy investment in about half the time of most conventional solar systems, he said.  

The company, which currently employs six workers,  is one of the first to benefit from a $600,000 U.S. Small Business Administration contract that Illinois Institute of Technology received last year earmarked for the Illinois Smart Grid Cluster. As part of the funding, IIT is providing Intelligent Generation with graduate student labor, lab space at a reduced rate and will provide help in finding additional capital, said Nik Rokop, managing director at IIT’s Knapp Entrepreneurship Center.  

Field-testing to begin this spring

In addition,  Intelligent Generation has been running simulations at IIT’s indoor labs and plans to use the university’s solar panels for field testing this spring, as sunlight hours increase, Gazzolo said. By summer, the company expects to be testing the technology with larger projects.

 “The goal is to make sure this is seamless for the building owner, so that they don’t see any difference in power” as the system switches from one energy source to another, Gazzolo said. “It should be invisible except on the bill.”

Intelligent Generation is still fine-tuning its pricing plans, he said.   Target customers include grid operators that manage transmission lines, utilities working to meet renewable energy standards, and environmentally conscious corporations striving to reduce their carbon footprint.

 Over time, the system will be available for residential customers.

 — Ann Meyer with reporting by Hallie Busta

This article made possible by a Chicago Innovation Awards sponsorship.

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