Echelon Corporation announced on Thursday that its energy control networking solutions will be added to Direct Grid micro-inverters for large commercial and utility-scale projects. The integration will allow for better remote management and control and improved diagnostics.

San Jose-based Echelon is best known for power line networking equipment and other building management systems, but it has already dabbled in solar. In 2009, it partnered with the North American arm of solar power inverter maker SMA Solar Technology to connect inverters to systems that could crunch data on the performance of solar installations.

The goal is ultimately to help commercial customers take a more holistic view of dynamic grid conditions to maximize efficiency, reliability and cost-effectiveness, Echelon said in statement. Having visibility of the performance of PV panels should also reduce the life cycle cost of the installation.  

“Echelon’s energy control network multiplies the benefits of micro-inverters and gives us tremendous system control capabilities, as well as insight into what is happening throughout the installation -- system-wide, by rows of panels, and at the individual panel level,” Frank Cooper, Direct Grid’s president and principal, said in a statement. “Efficiency and control are the combination that our customers want.”

Not only does the network help with control of the PV panels, but it also helps integrate the energy supply with demand. Like SMA Solar, Direct Grid liked Echelon because it integrates well with other building or utility systems that might be in place. The real potential comes in balancing supply and demand “right at the edge of the grid,” Anders Axelsson, Echelon’s senior vice president of commercial markets, said in a statement. The company also has a software platform and hardware that allow utilities to monitor outages and voltage fluctuation (a concern with high amounts of renewables coming onto the grid).

In an ideal world, solar installations would be fully integrated with building systems and energy management services, allowing for buildings to ramp their energy usage up or down depending on the output of the solar array.

For years, solar companies were concerned with just basic monitoring of PV panels. Now, “Solar is beginning to make the evolution to a more comprehensive approach to energy management,” said Ed Roseberry, VP of New Products and Solutions for Echelon. It's a step in the right direction for Direct Grid to compete in a busy space for a small slice of the solar market, said MJ Shiao, Solar Analyst for GTM Research, "but there are still many challenges that lay ahead as Direct Grid tries to convince the market that it is a bankable and differentiated player." Other solar companies, like market leader Enphase Energy, already have building management and efficiency products.

It's still early days for utilities or large commercial customers to be able to holistically connect supply and demand through smart networking -- but it’s coming. Echelon said that this is just the beginning of its partnerships in this space. “As the smart building interface begins to mature,” said Steve Nguyen Director of Corporate Marketing, “we’re seeing a greater drive for systems that can be managed from one interface.”