January 2010


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EMAIL INTERVIEW  Tom Tansy & Ken Sinclair

Tom Tansy, Chairman, SunSpec Alliance

SunSpec™ Alliance was launched at Intersolar North America ’09 in July of this year. Over the past six months the alliance has garnered the support of key players in the renewable energy and photovoltaic (PV) industries interested in defining open data standards for equipment interoperability.

SunSpec™ Alliance
The lack of interoperability seriously hampers industry growth.

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Sinclair: Tell me more about the SunSpec Alliance?

Tansy: We formed the SunSpec Alliance to accelerate growth of the renewable energy industry. Believe it or not, equipment in the renewable industry is largely proprietary and stand-alone. Through my company, Fat Spaniel, we are responsible for collecting data from renewable energy equipment. This involves developing interfaces to each vendor’s equipment. The problem gets magnified every time an installer integrates a multi-vendor solution. The lack of interoperability seriously hampers industry growth as installers struggle to build-out large, multi-vendor systems.

As it turns out, the common denominator between equipment vendors is the use of the Modbus standard. We’ve managed to get the largest equipment vendors together in the SunSpec Alliance to create a standard set of Modbus registers for key pieces of equipment such as inverters, meters, PV panels, string combiners, monitoring hardware, trackers, environmental sensors, and balance-of-system components.

Sinclair: Isn’t BACnet and Modbus doing the same thing?

Tansy: I’m not sure if there are any BACnet or ASHRAE committees developing renewable standards. If they are, their efforts are not visible within the renewable energy industry. The Modbus Organization appears to be primarily focused on the use of Modbus in industrial automation equipment. With that said, we’ve been collaborating with the Modbus Organization on a proposal we provided to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to address the need for Modbus support in the NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability.

contemporary Sinclair: Didn’t I read that you have a representative on the SGIP governing board?

Tansy: Yes, John Nunneley, our executive director was recently elected to the SGIP GB. John is representing the interests of the renewable energy industry and is delighted to be serving along side such luminaries as Vint Cerf—a guy who truly did help shape the Internet.

Sinclair: Who are some of the members of the alliance?

Tansy: I am very excited about the industry support we’ve garnered for the SunSpec Alliance over the past six months. Some of the key members include Campbell Scientific, Energy Recommerce, Fat Spaniel Technologies, Fronius, Moxa Americas, Nautilus Solar, PV Powered, Satcon, SMA, SolarEdge, Solar Power Partners and Veris Industries.

Sinclair: Do you anticipate any BMS companies joining the alliance in the future?

Tansy: We would love to have the support of the BMS industry. There is a growing desire among building owners and system integrators to shape energy loads based on dynamic pricing programs. I think we will start to see systems sharing more information to optimize BMS load demands. The work that Cisco is doing in this area is very interesting to SunSpec, and we therefore look forward to collaborating with them and anyone else who wants to drive standards.


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