US20100263660A1 - Solar Power Production and Metering - Google Patents

Solar Power Production and Metering Download PDF

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US20100263660A1
US20100263660A1 US12/425,351 US42535109A US2010263660A1 US 20100263660 A1 US20100263660 A1 US 20100263660A1 US 42535109 A US42535109 A US 42535109A US 2010263660 A1 US2010263660 A1 US 2010263660A1
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energy
photovoltaic panels
apparatus
report
configured
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US12/425,351
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Steve Thorne
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Steve Thorne
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    • HELECTRICITY
    • H02GENERATION; CONVERSION OR DISTRIBUTION OF ELECTRIC POWER
    • H02SGENERATION OF ELECTRIC POWER BY CONVERSION OF INFRA-RED RADIATION, VISIBLE LIGHT OR ULTRAVIOLET LIGHT, e.g. USING PHOTOVOLTAIC [PV] MODULES
    • H02S20/00Supporting structures for PV modules
    • H02S20/20Supporting structures directly fixed to an immovable object
    • H02S20/22Supporting structures directly fixed to an immovable object specially adapted for buildings
    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F24HEATING; RANGES; VENTILATING
    • F24SSOLAR HEAT COLLECTORS; SOLAR HEAT SYSTEMS
    • F24S25/00Arrangement of stationary mountings or supports for solar heat collector modules
    • F24S25/10Arrangement of stationary mountings or supports for solar heat collector modules extending in directions away from a supporting surface
    • F24S25/12Arrangement of stationary mountings or supports for solar heat collector modules extending in directions away from a supporting surface using posts in combination with upper profiles
    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F24HEATING; RANGES; VENTILATING
    • F24SSOLAR HEAT COLLECTORS; SOLAR HEAT SYSTEMS
    • F24S40/00Safety or protection arrangements of solar heat collectors; Preventing malfunction of solar heat collectors
    • F24S40/20Cleaning; Removing snow
    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F24HEATING; RANGES; VENTILATING
    • F24SSOLAR HEAT COLLECTORS; SOLAR HEAT SYSTEMS
    • F24S50/00Arrangements for controlling solar heat collectors
    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F24HEATING; RANGES; VENTILATING
    • F24SSOLAR HEAT COLLECTORS; SOLAR HEAT SYSTEMS
    • F24S30/00Arrangements for moving or orienting solar heat collector modules
    • F24S30/40Arrangements for moving or orienting solar heat collector modules for rotary movement
    • F24S30/42Arrangements for moving or orienting solar heat collector modules for rotary movement with only one rotation axis
    • F24S30/425Horizontal axis
    • YGENERAL TAGGING OF NEW TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS; GENERAL TAGGING OF CROSS-SECTIONAL TECHNOLOGIES SPANNING OVER SEVERAL SECTIONS OF THE IPC; TECHNICAL SUBJECTS COVERED BY FORMER USPC CROSS-REFERENCE ART COLLECTIONS [XRACs] AND DIGESTS
    • Y02TECHNOLOGIES OR APPLICATIONS FOR MITIGATION OR ADAPTATION AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE
    • Y02BCLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION TECHNOLOGIES RELATED TO BUILDINGS, e.g. HOUSING, HOUSE APPLIANCES OR RELATED END-USER APPLICATIONS
    • Y02B10/00Integration of renewable energy sources in buildings
    • Y02B10/10Photovoltaic [PV]
    • YGENERAL TAGGING OF NEW TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS; GENERAL TAGGING OF CROSS-SECTIONAL TECHNOLOGIES SPANNING OVER SEVERAL SECTIONS OF THE IPC; TECHNICAL SUBJECTS COVERED BY FORMER USPC CROSS-REFERENCE ART COLLECTIONS [XRACs] AND DIGESTS
    • Y02TECHNOLOGIES OR APPLICATIONS FOR MITIGATION OR ADAPTATION AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE
    • Y02EREDUCTION OF GREENHOUSE GAS [GHG] EMISSIONS, RELATED TO ENERGY GENERATION, TRANSMISSION OR DISTRIBUTION
    • Y02E10/00Energy generation through renewable energy sources
    • Y02E10/40Solar thermal energy
    • Y02E10/47Mountings or tracking

Abstract

Systems and methods for positioning photovoltaic panels above agricultural land are disclosed. The photovoltaic panels can be suspended over agricultural land and supported by vertical holders, which are generally arranged in a two-dimensional grid. Sufficient clearance exists between the base surface and the photovoltaic panels for the operators and the agricultural machinery. The position of the photovoltaic panels can be adjusted using panel orientation systems. A decision about the photovoltaic panel angle with respect to the incoming sunlight can be based on the insolation/shade needs of the agricultural plants beneath the system and also on the need to generate electrical energy by insolating the panels. Furthermore, the systems and methods can be used for a net metering of energy. An energy ratepayer who is also a sole or fractional owner of the renewable energy production capacity can subtract the energy production from the energy consumption, thus resulting in the net metering of energy.

Description

    BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • The present invention relates generally to solar, wind or other renewable energy production. More particularly, the renewable energy is produced in conjunction with harvestable plant production on agricultural land. The renewable energy produced can be used to offset the renewable energy consumed at a ratepayer's residence or business, thus resulting in a net energy metering.
  • Due to the concerns over global warming and the limited amount of fossil fuels, alternative methods of energy production are desired. Such alternative sources of energy are solar energy produced by photovoltaic solar panels, which utilize the photoelectric effect to convert the energy of sun's radiation into electricity, wind energy that is converted to the electrical energy by wind turbines and electrical generators, or other renewable sources of energy.
  • While the average solar power density reaching Earth is 1.3 kW/m2 to 1.4 kW/m2, depending on the time of year, the local solar power density can vary greatly depending on the presence of clouds, flatness of the area, presence of tall natural or manmade objects, and the orientation of the base surface with respect to the incoming sunlight. Thus, flat, cloudless deserts receive more insolation per unit area than some cloudy and hilly areas. Furthermore, for better economies of scale it is preferred to install a large number of photovoltaic panels in a common location, because the panel mounting infrastructure, transmission lines, maintenance, and metering can be shared by the collocated photovoltaic panels. While sizeable areas of flat and mostly cloudless land are available in many desert regions, such regions are often far away from the urban locations, where most of the energy is ultimately consumed. Suitable electrical transmission lines extending from the desert regions to the urban regions do not exist in many cases. Constructing the electrical transmission lines can cost up to $3,000,000 per mile according to some estimates, depending on the required capacity of the transmission lines and the type of the terrain where the transmission lines are installed. Furthermore, excessive temperatures and sand erosion in the deserts can reduce the conversion efficiency and shorten the lifespan of the photovoltaic panels, resulting in a more expensive renewable energy. On the other hand, there are many areas with a desirable combination of insolation, pre-existing transmission lines, and proximity to urban zones, but those areas are already in use as the agricultural land. The production of electricity by photovoltaic panels should preferably not degrade the agricultural value of the land in order not to reduce the profits that are derived from such a land. Therefore, a need exists for systems and methods that can be used in the photovoltaic production of the electricity, while not impeding, and possibly even improving, the agricultural utility of the land where the systems are installed.
  • Furthermore, renewable energy that is produced at a remote location, for example, an energy installation collocated with a farm or a ranch, can be owned by a single entity or fractionally, meaning that multiple owners have rights to a certain fraction of the energy produced. For example, each fractional owner may have rights to the energy produced by a certain number of the photovoltaic panels. When electricity is produced close to the ratepayer's site, that electricity may be fed directly to the ratepayer without using a common utility distribution grid. If the ratepayer produces more energy than he or she needs, the excess is transferred to the common utility distribution grid, and further to other ratepayers on the grid. Some existing methods and devices use electrical meters that, essentially, spin backwards when energy is delivered from the ratepayer's site to the common utility grid, thus reducing the renewable energy producer's total electricity bill. However, these methods and devices are only practicable for energy production sites that are collocated with or close to the respective energy consumption sites.
  • Whether the energy is produced close or remote to the ratepayer's site, the energy can be delivered to the shared electrical grid, wherefrom it can be transported to any ratepayer connected to the grid. Some existing methods and devices measure the energy produced at the production site, and send an itemized, per-fractional-owner accounting to a public utility, which also receives an accounting of the energy used by the ratepayers at their residences or businesses. The public utility then subtracts the electrical energy produced by a given ratepayer from the energy consumed by the same ratepayer, thus arriving at a net energy accounting that the ratepayer will be charged for. However, with this method the burden of the accounting paperwork and reconciling the ratepayer's produced vs. consumed energy is shifted to the public utility.
  • Therefore, a need remains for systems and methods that can provide a simple net energy accounting and billing, without burdening the public utilities with additional billing and paperwork.
  • BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • The present invention relates to systems and methods for positioning photovoltaic panels above agricultural land. The photovoltaic panels can be supported by vertical holders, which are generally arranged in a two-dimensional grid over a base surface that is used as the agricultural land. Sufficient clearance can be left between the base surface and the photovoltaic panels for the operators and the agricultural machinery. The position of the photovoltaic panels can be adjusted using panel orientation apparatuses. A decision about the photovoltaic panel angle with respect to the incoming sunlight can be based on the insolation/shade needs of the agricultural plants beneath the system and also on the need to generate electrical energy by insolating the photovoltaic panels. Furthermore, the systems and methods in accordance with the embodiments of the present invention can be used for a net metering of energy. An energy ratepayer who is also a sole or fractional owner of the renewable energy production capacity can subtract the energy production from the energy consumption, thus resulting in the net metering of energy. The electricity can be provided to the power grid, while an energy production report can be sent from the energy production site to the ratepayer's metering device, which then performs the required processing to calculate the net energy report. The calculated net energy report can be sent to the public utility, which charges the ratepayer only for the net energy used, while avoiding the overhead and paperwork required for the net energy accounting. The existing power grid or wireless devices can be used to transfer the energy production report to the metering device and the net energy report to the public utility. Additionally, the value of the renewable energy, sent either directly to the end users or to the common power grid, can be adjusted to reflect a price premium placed on the renewable energy in comparison with the energy produced by traditional sources.
  • In one embodiment, an apparatus for controlling the orientation of photovoltaic panels has: a generally horizontal platform mounted on one or more generally vertical supports, the supports being configured and dimensioned to elevate the platform such as to allow clearance for the agricultural machinery and/or personnel between the platform and a base surface; one or more holders attached with the platform, the holders being configured and dimensioned for pivotably holding the photovoltaic panels; and first orientation means configured to pivot the photovoltaic panels in response to a control signal thus changing a shading on the base surface below the platform, where the control signal is determined at least in part based on the insolation data and plant growth cycle data.
  • In one aspect, the insolation data contains solar intensity and/or direction of solar radiation.
  • In another aspect, the plant growth cycle data contains temperature, humidity, light, available nutrients in the soil, and plant age.
  • In another aspect, the apparatus has one or more frames that extend about a longitudinal axis, the frames being tiltably mounted to the platform and configured and dimensioned for holding the photovoltaic panels parallel to one another, and second orientation means that are configured to adjust a tilt angle of the frames, thus adjusting the tilt angle of the photovoltaic panels held by the holders along the longitudinal axis of the frames.
  • In another aspect, the apparatus has an energy measuring device configured to measure electrical energy production by the photovoltaic panels and configured to generate an energy production report representative of the energy produced by one or more photovoltaic panels associated with a ratepayer; means for sending the energy production report to a local metering device located locally with the ratepayer; the local metering device being configured to: receive the energy production report from the remotely located energy production facility, measure the energy consumption of the ratepayer, process the energy production report with the energy consumption of the ratepayer to determine a net energy consumption report; and means for sending the net energy consumption report to a utility company.
  • In another embodiment, a method for controlling the orientation of the photovoltaic panels includes: receiving the insolation data containing solar intensity and/or angle of solar radiation; receiving plant growth cycle data; determining a position of the photovoltaic panel based on the insolation data and/or plant growth cycle; and orienting the photovoltaic panels to the position, where the position of the photovoltaic panels is configured such as to result in a predetermined percentage of a base surface below the photovoltaic panels being shaded.
  • In one aspect, the method includes: associating at least a portion of the remotely located energy production facility with a ratepayer; generating an energy production report representative of the renewable energy produced at the remotely located energy production facility and associated with the ratepayer; sending the energy production report to a local metering device located locally with the ratepayer, where the local metering device is configured to receive the energy production report and where the local metering device is configured to measure the energy consumption of the ratepayer; receiving the energy production report sent from the remotely located energy production facility at the local metering device; and using the local metering device for processing the energy production report with the energy consumption of the ratepayer to determine a net energy consumption report.
  • In yet another aspect, the method includes sending the energy production report wirelessly or over an existing power grid to the local metering device.
  • For a further understanding of the nature and advantages of the invention, reference should be made to the following description taken in conjunction with the accompanying figures. It is to be expressly understood, however, that each of the figures is provided for the purpose of illustration and description only and is not intended as a definition of the limits of the embodiments of the present invention.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • FIG. 1 is a plan view diagram of the photovoltaic panel positioning according to one embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 2 is a perspective view illustrating a photovoltaic panel positioning apparatus that can be used to control the orientation of the panels according to one embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 3 is a schematic view showing a relationship among the incoming sunlight angle, photovoltaic panel angle, and shading of the base surface.
  • FIG. 4 is a graph of the base surface shading as a function of the photovoltaic panel pivot angle according to one embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 5A is a schematic drawing illustrating a photovoltaic panel positioning apparatus having a service platform according to one embodiment of the invention.
  • FIGS. 5B and 5C show details of the service platform shown in FIG. 5A.
  • FIG. 6 is a perspective view of a photovoltaic panel positioning apparatus that is mountable over a green house according to one embodiment of the invention.
  • FIGS. 7A and 7B show details of the photovoltaic panel positioning apparatus of FIG. 6.
  • FIG. 7C shows a detail of ventilation of the photovoltaic panel positioning apparatus of FIG. 6.
  • FIG. 8 is a diagram of the prior art net metering where the accounting of the net energy is performed at the utility company.
  • FIG. 9 is a diagram of net metering where the accounting of the net energy is performed at the ratepayer's metering device according to one embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 10 is a diagram of a smart metering of the renewable energy.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
  • The present invention relates to systems and methods for positioning photovoltaic panels above agricultural land. The photovoltaic panels can be supported by vertical holders, which are generally arranged in a two-dimensional grid over a base surface that is used as the agricultural land. Sufficient clearance can be left between the base surface and the photovoltaic panels for the operators and the agricultural machinery. The position of the photovoltaic panels can be adjusted using panel orientation systems. A decision about the photovoltaic panel's angle with respect to the incoming sunlight can be based on the insolation/shade needs of the agricultural plants beneath the system and also on the need to generate electrical energy by insolating the photovoltaic panels. Furthermore, systems and methods can be used for a net metering of energy. An energy ratepayer who is also a sole or fractional owner of the renewable energy production capacity can subtract the energy production from the energy consumption, thus resulting in the net metering of energy. The electricity can be provided to the power grid, while an energy production report can be sent from the energy production site to the ratepayer's metering device, which then performs the required processing to calculate the net energy report. The calculated net energy report can be sent to the public utility, which charges the ratepayer only for the net energy used, while avoiding the overhead and paperwork required for the net energy accounting. The existing power grid or wireless devices can be used to transfer the energy production report to the metering device and the net energy report to the public utility. Additionally, the value of the renewable energy, sent either directly to the end users or to the common power grid, can be adjusted to reflect a price premium placed on the renewable energy in comparison with the energy produced by traditional sources.
  • FIG. 1 is a plan view diagram of the photovoltaic panel positioning apparatus 1 according to one embodiment of the invention. The supports 30 separate the photovoltaic panels 60 from a base surface 10. The supports 30 can be dimensioned to be tall enough as to allow for a clearance for agricultural machinery and operators working with the plants 23. Two supports 30 are shown, but a two-dimensional grid of supports 30 can be used to cover a desired area of the agricultural land. The inventor herein has found that about 30-50 ft tall supports work well in providing the needed clearance, while avoiding excessive dust contamination coming off the base surface. The supports 30 spaced at about 80-100 ft can work well, but other support spacing and height are also possible. The photovoltaic panels 60 can be positioned at a desired angle with respect to the direction of the incoming sunlight by either one or two axis panel positioning mechanisms (not shown).
  • FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a photovoltaic panel orientation mechanism 300 having the photovoltaic panels 60 arranged in an array of substantially parallel frames 50. The photovoltaic panels come in different sizes and have different electricity generating potentials. Some examples of the photovoltaic panels are PV-UD185MF5 by Mitsubishi Solar and KD180GX-LP by Kyocera. Many other photovoltaic panels are available on the market. The photovoltaic panels can be held within a frame by grippers or holders, like, for example, Toggle Clamp 3CWX4 or Latch Clamp 3CXE4 by Grainger. Many other panel grippers and holders are available on the market. The frames 50 can be mounted on a pair of substantially parallel girders 40, which rest on the supports 30 and bases 20, thus attaching the panel orientation apparatus 300 to the base surface 10, which can be agricultural land. The photovoltaic panels 60 in each frame can be pivoted by a panel drive mechanism 50, which adjusts the panel pivot angle for all photovoltaic panels 60 in a given frame. A frame tilt angle can be adjusted through the frame drive mechanism 80. The photovoltaic panel orientation mechanism 300 can have energy meter 220 that has the means 221 for wireless data transmission. An irradiation sensor 240 can detect the intensity and direction of the sunlight and can be connected to the controller 230. An example of such a solar irradiation sensor capable of automatically determining its position through a Global Positioning System and then calculating the angle of solar irradiation is the Wheeler Sunpredictor™ by LISTECH from Windsor, Australia. One or more probes 260 may detect plant growth cycle data, for example temperature, humidity, light, available nutrients in the soil, and plant age. An example of a soil humidity measurement probe is S-SMA-M005 SMA Soil Moisture Smart Sensor by Onset from Bourne, Mass. Other probes for temperature, humidity, light, and available nutrients in the soil are available from different suppliers. The probes 260 can also be connected with the controller 230, which calculates the required control parameters for the frame drive and panel drive based on the desired orientation of the photovoltaic panels 60 against the incoming sunlight (thus controlling the renewable energy production) and the desired shading over the base surface 10 (thus controlling the ratio of the direct sunlight and shade available to the plants below). For instance, if a maximum electricity production is required (based, for example, on the instant market price of the electricity) the photovoltaic panels can be oriented perpendicular to the direction of incoming sunlight. As another example, if a maximum insolation (i.e. the minimum shade) on the base surface 10 is required, the photovoltaic panels can be oriented parallel to the direction of incoming sunlight. While many plants require as high insolation as possible, there are many others, for example coffee, some spices and mushrooms, that do better in a shaded environment. Furthermore, the monetary value of the plants and the electrical energy can be significantly different, which can also be used as an input to the controller 230. The relationship between the position of the photovoltaic panels 60, direction of incoming sunlight, and amount of shade on the base surface 10 is explained in more detail below in reference with FIGS. 3 and 4.
  • FIG. 3 is a schematic view of several photovoltaic panels 60 oriented parallel to each other while making angle α+β with respect to the incoming sunlight rays. A photovoltaic panel can be pivotable about its pivot point (which can be on the axis passing through the middle of the panel, but can also be on another axis), thus making angle β between a panel and the horizontal surface, i.e. the base surface. The distance between the two adjacent photovoltaic panels (D) can be set longer than the length of a photovoltaic panel (L) as to avoid panel interference. As a result of the photovoltaic panel orientation and the angle of the incoming sunlight, a certain portion of the base surface will be insolated, while the rest will be protected from a direct sunlight by being in the photovoltaic panels' shade. It can be shown that the percentage of the base area in the photovoltaic panels' shade is given by Eq. 1 below.

  • Shaded %=L sin(α+β)/D sin(α)   Eq. (1)
  • Different combinations of L, D, α, and β will result in different percentages of the base surface being either insolated or in the shade, as explained in more detail below in reference with FIG. 4.
  • FIG. 4 is a graph showing a shaded percentage of the base area 10 as a function of the photovoltaic panel pivot angle (β). The graph is based on Eq. 1 above. In the case illustrated by the graph, the angle of the incoming sunlight (α) is assumed to be 60°, while the distance (D) between the panels is 1.3 times bigger than the length (L) of the photovoltaic panels, but many other combinations are also possible. FIG. 4 shows that for the photovoltaic panel pivot angle (β) of 0° (panels parallel the base surface) about 77% of the base area is in the photovoltaic panel shade. The shaded percentage of the base area peaks at about 89% for β=30°, which defines a perpendicular orientation of the panels with respect to the incoming sunlight, since the incoming sunlight angle (α) is 60°. The shaded percentage of the base area is at a minimum for β=120°, which is when the photovoltaic panel is parallel with the incoming sunlight. The minimum is calculated as 0% since the thickness of the photovoltaic panel is considered negligible in the simplified calculation of Eq. 1.
  • FIG. 5A is a schematic drawing illustrating a photovoltaic panel positioning apparatus 2 having a service platform 25 according to one embodiment of the invention. The service platform 25, which can be movable in and out of the plane of the paper, is supported by the supports 30. The service platform may be dimensioned such that a sufficient clearance for the agricultural machinery and operators is left between the base surface 10 and the service platform, but the platform can also be configured to be moved out of the way when additional clearance is needed.
  • FIGS. 5B and 5C show details of the service platform. The service platform 25 can carry an operator who can clean the photovoltaic panels 60 in order to improve their performance and expected life span. The service platform can also be used to manually adjust the orientation of the photovoltaic panels or to carry a sprinkler system (not shown). The service platform 25 can be attached above the photovoltaic panels (as shown in FIG. 5B) or beneath the photovoltaic panels (as shown in FIG. 5C). A wheel/rail based moving mechanism 27 is illustrated in FIGS. 5B and 5C, but many different moving mechanisms are possible for repositioning the service platform 25.
  • FIG. 6 is a perspective view of a photovoltaic panel orientation mechanism that is completely or partially mountable over a green house. The existing green house structure may be used to support the photovoltaic panel orientation mechanism, but a dedicated support structure may also be used. A controller can be used to set the photovoltaic panel position resulting in a desired amount of the electrical energy production vs. a desired shading of the base surface beneath the photovoltaic panels.
  • FIG. 7A shows a side-view detail of the embodiment of FIG. 6. The photovoltaic panels (not shown) are pivoted around pivot point 35 by a pivoting mechanism 31. A ceiling 33 can partially or completely separate the photovoltaic panels from the interior of the green house. The ceiling 33 may be made of a cloth or a plastic foil and may be attached with the pivoting mechanism 31 such that a certain amount of slack is allowed in the ceiling. Therefore, when the photovoltaic panels are rotated to a steeper angle, as in FIG. 7B, the ceiling 33 can adjust to a new position, while still functioning as a separation between the panels and the green house interior. The angle for the photovoltaic panel rotation may be selected based on the angle of the incoming sunlight, as explained in detail with reference to FIGS. 1-4.
  • FIG. 7C shows a ventilation detail for the photovoltaic panel positioning apparatus of FIG. 6. In this embodiment the ceiling 33 (not shown) can connect the photovoltaic panels 60 in the same row, while not occupying the horizontal space between the photovoltaic panels 60 and the support 30. The distance (d) between the photovoltaic panels 60 and the supports 30 in part determines the amount of ventilation in the green house—the larger the distance, the more ventilation. The distance (d) can be used as an additional input to controller 230 (not shown), which determines the position of the photovoltaic panels.
  • The above described photovoltaic panel positioning apparatuses can be used in conjunction with the net metering of energy described below. FIG. 8 shows a diagram of the prior art net metering of energy. The energy can be produced using, for example, the photovoltaic panels P1-P3. The solar panels are connected to a power grid 43. Produced energy can be metered by the measurement devices M1 b-M3 b, and an energy production report can be sent to a utility company 44. The owners of a renewable energy production site 41 have residences or businesses H1-H3, which are connected to the common power grid 43. Metering devices M1 a-M3 a measure the energy consumption at residences or businesses H1-H3. The energy consumption reports, either paper or electronic, are made available to the utility company 44. Thus, with the prior art, net metering of the energy is performed at the utility company 44, which compares energy produced with energy consumed for a given owner to arrive to the net energy accounting. Therefore, the overhead and paperwork for the net energy accounting is borne by the utility company. Furthermore, the energy is valued equally, whether produced from a renewable or a traditional source.
  • FIG. 9 illustrates a net metering method according to one embodiment of the invention. A set of photovoltaic panels P1-P3 can produce electricity at the energy production site 41. The ownership of the energy production means, for example the photovoltaic panels P1-P3, can be fractional. The electricity can be delivered to the common power grid 43. Measuring devices M1 b-M3 b can measure the energy produced by a certain fraction of or by the entire energy production site 41. The measuring devices M1 b-M3 b may have wireless transmitters 45 that can transmit the energy production reports to their corresponding wireless receivers 46 at the metering devices M1 a-M3 a, which meter the energy consumption at the residences or businesses H1-H3 of the end users. Alternatively or additionally, the measuring devices M1 b-M3 b may use the common power grid 43 to transmit the energy production reports to the metering devices M1 a-M3 a. Three measuring devices M1 b-M3 b and three metering devices M1 a-M3 a are used for illustration, but a bigger or a smaller number of measuring devices at the energy production site and/or metering devices at the residences or businesses is possible. Upon receiving their respective energy production reports, the metering devices M1 a-M3 a can subtract the amount of energy produced by their respective photovoltaic panels or groups of panels P1-P3 from the amount of energy consumed at the residence or business, therefore arriving at a net energy consumption report. Thus calculated net energy consumption report can be transmitted to a utility company 44, which can now bill the ratepayer for the net energy only, without having to reconcile energy producer with energy consumer and without having to run the calculations by itself. The net energy consumption report can be transmitted to the utility company electronically, for example wirelessly or through the power grid.
  • FIG. 10 illustrates a renewable energy metering method according to another embodiment of the invention. The photovoltaic panels P1-P6 can be mounted on the photovoltaic panel positioning apparatus 300 (described in detail in FIG. 2), but other photovoltaic panel positioning apparatuses are also possible. The photovoltaic panel positioning apparatus 300 is optionally mounted over the agricultural land. The panel positioning apparatus 300 is capable of adjusting the angle of the photovoltaic panels in response to a control signal. The control signal can be in part based on the probe 260, which detects plant growth cycle data. The angle of the photovoltaic panels determines the insolation of the plants 23 at the base surface 10, as well as the amount of renewable energy produced by the photovoltaic panels P1-P6, since the efficiency of the photovoltaic panels depends on the angle of to the incoming sunlight impinging on the photovoltaic panels. The panel positioning apparatus 300 may be only partially populated, thus having empty slots where more photovoltaic panels can be installed. The energy produced by the photovoltaic panels can be measured by the measuring devices M1-M6. FIG. 10 illustrates an embodiment whereby each photovoltaic panel has a dedicated measuring device, but the embodiments where the energy produced by a group of the photovoltaic panels is measured by a single measuring device are also possible. The photovoltaic panels can be owned by a single owner or by the fractional owners F1-F3. The fractional owners F1-F3 can find the amount of the energy produced by their photovoltaic panels by viewing their respective energy production reports using, for example, a computer or an internet phone that can connect to a control computer 47 (described below). The fractional owners F1 -F3 can also assign their renewable energy produced or the associated green credit to an end user of their choice, for example an opera house, a school, an orphanage, etc., by logging such an assignment with the utility company 44. Furthermore, the fractional owners can control the photovoltaic panel angle to control the insolation of the plants 23 and production of the electricity.
  • Still describing the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 10, the energy production reports generated by the measuring devices M1-M6 can be collected by the control computer 47, and transmitted to the utility company 44 using wireless transmitters 45 or other means of data transfer, for example transferring data over the power grid. Many other methods of data transfer are known and are commercially available. A master green meter MGM can measure the energy production of the entire energy production site 41, and forward the energy production report to the utility company 44. The energy produced by the photovoltaic panels can be sent to the common power grid 43, and then distributed to the end users C1-C6, which do not have to be the owners of the energy production site 41—they can be any energy users on the common power grid. Alternatively or additionally, the energy produced by the photovoltaic panels can be distributed directly to the end users C1-C3 which are equipped with green meters GM1-GM3. The end users C1-C3, which do not necessarily correspond to the fractional owners F1-F3, may also be receiving additional energy from the common power grid 43 through utility meters UM1-UM3. Since the energy produced by the renewable means, for example the photovoltaic panels P1-P6, may be valued differently than the energy produced by the traditional, more polluting means, the utility company can value the energy reported by the master green meter MGM or by the green meters GM1-GM3 at a higher rate by, for instance, assigning an adjustment coefficient (variable or constant) to the energy produced by the renewable means. Thus, for instance, an end user C2 may be due credit by the utility company or a green rebate entity even though the end user C2 consumed some energy delivered by the common grid and measured by the utility meter UM2, because the adjusted value of the green energy assignable to the end user C2 exceeds the amount of the energy measured by the utility meter UM2.
  • As will be understood by those skilled in the art, the present invention may be embodied in other specific forms without departing from the essential characteristics thereof. For example, the photovoltaic panels do not necessarily have to be parallel to each other over the entire positioning mechanism. The positioning mechanism may subdivide the photovoltaic panels into zones of different panel orientation, resulting in different electrical energy production and shading in the zones. A business entity may provide hosting, maintenance, cleaning, metering, and accounting for a group of fractional owners. Such a business entity may provide a real-time energy production information for the fractional owners, over the internet or otherwise. Furthermore, the net energy metering can be used for green credit or green rebate accounting by, for example, sending the net energy report or the renewable energy production report to green credit or green rebate accounting entities. Wealthy individuals may assign their fractional ownership or produced energy to a cause they want to support, like, for example, a school, a pet hospital, or an opera house. A donation of renewably energy may be left in a will. Many other embodiments are possible without deviating from the spirit and scope of the invention. These other embodiments are intended to be included within the scope of the present invention, which is set forth in the following claims.

Claims (38)

1. An apparatus for controlling the orientation of photovoltaic panels, comprising:
a generally horizontal platform mounted on one or more generally vertical supports, said supports configured and dimensioned to elevate the platform such as to allow clearance for agricultural machinery and/or personnel between the platform and a base surface;
one or more holders attached with the platform, said holders configured and dimensioned for pivotably holding the photovoltaic panels; and
first orientation means configured to pivot the photovoltaic panels in response to a control signal thus changing a shading on the base surface below the platform, wherein said control signal is determined at least in part based on insolation data and plant growth cycle data.
2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein said insolation data comprises solar intensity and/or direction of solar radiation.
3. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein said plant growth cycle data comprise temperature, humidity, light, available nutrients in the soil, and plant age.
4. The apparatus of claim 2, further comprising a measurement device configured to measure intensity and direction of the solar radiation.
5. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein:
said platform is mounted substantially over at least one greenhouse, and
said supports comprise parts of said at least one greenhouse.
6. The apparatus of claim 5, wherein said control signal is determined at least in part based on the ventilation of the greenhouse by pivoting the photovoltaic panels.
7. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising:
one or more frames extending about a longitudinal axis, said frames tiltably mounted to the platform and configured and dimensioned for holding the photovoltaic panels parallel to one another, and
second orientation means configured to adjust a tilt angle of said frames, thus adjusting the tilt angle of the photovoltaic panels held by the holders along the longitudinal axis of the frames.
8. The apparatus of claim 7, wherein said first orientation means adjust the pivot angle of the photovoltaic panels in all the frames to substantially the same value.
9. The apparatus of claim 7, wherein said second orientation means adjust the tilt angle of all the frames to substantially the same value.
10. The apparatus of claim 7, wherein said frames are tilted about an axis passing through the frame and being substantially parallel to the base surface.
11. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein said control signal is determined based on pre-programmed data about the position of Sun relative to latitudinal and longitudinal position of the apparatus.
12. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising a generally horizontal service platform attached with the holders and disposed between the photovoltaic panels and the base surface, said service platform configured and dimensioned to carry an operator and/or a sprinkler system.
13. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein said service platform is disposed above the photovoltaic panels.
14. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising an energy metering device configured to measure energy produced by said photovoltaic panels.
15. The apparatus of claim 14, wherein said energy metering device is configured to measure energy produced by an individual photovoltaic panel or by a group of the photovoltaic panels.
16. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising:
an energy measuring device configured to measure the electrical energy production by the photovoltaic panels and to generate an energy production report representative of the energy produced by one or more photovoltaic panels associated with a ratepayer;
means for sending the energy production report to a local metering device located locally with the ratepayer;
the local metering device configured to: receive the energy production report from the remotely located energy production facility, measure the energy consumption of the ratepayer, process the energy production report with the energy consumption of the ratepayer to determine a net energy consumption report; and
means for sending the net energy consumption report to a utility company.
17. The apparatus of claim 16, wherein said means for sending the energy production report to the metering device operate wirelessly or over an existing power grid.
18. The apparatus of claim 16, wherein said means for sending the net energy consumption report to a utility company operate wirelessly or over an existing power grid.
19. The apparatus of claim 16, further comprising means for sending the net energy consumption report to a green credit accounting entity for assigning a green credit to said customer.
20. The apparatus of claim 16, further comprising means for sending the net energy consumption report to an accounting entity for calculating a green rebate.
21. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising:
a master green meter configured to:
measure the electrical energy production by the photovoltaic panels,
generate an energy production report representative of the energy produced by the photovoltaic panels, and
transmit the energy production report to a utility company,
wherein the utility company assigns a value to the energy produced by the photovoltaic panels and delivers the energy to the end users using a common power grid.
22. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising:
at least one energy measuring device configured to measure the electrical energy produced by one or more photovoltaic panels, and
a control computer in communication with said energy measuring devices, said control computer configured to collect the measurement data from said energy measuring devices and to transmit said measurement data and a fractional owner identification to a utility company,
wherein the utility company assigns a value to the energy produced by the photovoltaic panels and delivers the energy to end users.
23. The apparatus of claim 22, wherein said end users are chosen in accordance with the fractional owners instructions.
24. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising:
transmission means for delivering the electrical energy produced by the photovoltaic panels to at least one end user, and
at least one green metering device assigned to said at least one end user, said at least one metering device configured to:
meter the electrical energy produced by the photovoltaic panels and delivered to said at least one end user, and
transmit metered values to the utility company.
25. A method for controlling the orientation of photovoltaic panels, comprising:
receiving insolation data comprising solar intensity and/or angle of solar radiation;
receiving plant growth cycle data;
determining a position of the photovoltaic panel based on the insolation data and/or plant growth cycle; and
orienting the photovoltaic panels to the position, said position of the photovoltaic panels configured such as to result in a predetermined percentage of a base surface below the photovoltaic panels being shaded.
26. The method of claim 25, wherein said plant growth cycle data comprise temperature, humidity, light, available nutrients in the soil, and plant age.
27. The method of claim 25, wherein said determining is based at least in part on the cost of electrical energy.
28. The method of claim 25, further comprising reading a temperature of the surface below the photovoltaic panels, wherein the determining the position of the photovoltaic panel is based at least in part on said temperature of the surface below the photovoltaic panels.
29. The method of claim 25, wherein said photovoltaic panels are configured over at least one greenhouse, and wherein said determining is based at least in part on a ventilation of said at least one greenhouse.
30. The method of claim 25, further comprising:
associating at least a portion of said remotely located energy production facility with a ratepayer;
generating an energy production report representative of the renewable energy produced at said remotely located energy production facility and associated with the ratepayer;
sending the energy production report to a local metering device located locally with the ratepayer, wherein the local metering device is configured to receive the energy production report and wherein the local metering device is configured to measure the energy consumption of the ratepayer;
receiving the energy production report sent from the remotely located energy production facility at the local metering device; and
using the local metering device for processing the energy production report with the energy consumption of the ratepayer to determine a net energy consumption report.
31. The method of claim 29, wherein said sending comprises sending the energy production report wirelessly or over an existing power grid to the local metering device.
32. The method of claim 29, further comprising sending the net energy consumption report to a utility company.
33. The method of claim 32, wherein said sending the net energy consumption report to a utility company is done wirelessly or over an existing power grid
34. The method of claim 29, further comprising sending the net energy consumption report to a green credit accounting entity for assigning a green credit to said ratepayer.
35. The method of claim 29, further comprising sending the net energy consumption report to an accounting entity for calculating a green rebate for said ratepayer.
36. The method of claim 25, further comprising:
measuring the electrical energy produced by one or more photovoltaic panels by at least one energy measuring device,
collecting the measurement data from said at least one energy measuring devices by a control computer that is in communication with said at least one energy measuring device, and
transmitting said measurement data and a fractional owner identification to a utility company by the control computer,
wherein the utility company assigns a value to the energy produced by the photovoltaic panels and delivers the energy to end users.
37. The method of claim 36, wherein said end users are chosen in accordance with the fractional owners instructions.
38. The method of claim 25, further comprising:
transmitting the electrical energy produced by the photovoltaic panels to at least on end user, and
metering the electrical energy produced by the photovoltaic panels and delivered to said at least one end user by at least one green metering device, and
transmitting the metered values and the end user identifier to the utility company.
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