Smart grid software startup GridPoint said Wednesday that it is helping the Sacramento Municipal Utility District with a pressing problem – managing power from its customers' rooftop solar panels.

The Arlington, Va.-based company has landed a contract to help the Sacramento, Calif.-based municipal utility manage renewable power integration, energy storage and home energy management systems.

SMUD last week won $127.5 million from the Department of Energy to carry out the project, which also includes deploying 600,000 smart meters in its service territory. It's one of 100 projects that received a piece of the $3.4 billion in DOE smart grid stimulus grants (see DOE's $3.4B Smart Grid Grant Program: The Winners).

SMUD will be installing energy storage devices, solar panel inverter systems and "consumer control concepts in a residential solar community in Rancho Cordova, Calif.," GridPoint said. Everything will be linked with the utility's smart meters, to be provided by Landis+Gyr and networked by Silver Spring Networks (see Green Light post).

GridPoint's role will be to help the utility "evaluate how the integration of energy storage could enhance the value of distributed photovoltaic (PV) resources for the community, the utility and the grid by reducing peak loads, firming capacity and maximizing overall system efficiency," it said in a press release.

Managing solar power systems is looming as a big task for utilities that face mandates to boost the share of power they obtain from renewable sources. Customer-owned rooftop solar panels present a particular challenge, since they could destabilize local distribution grids without additional storage and communication and control systems, experts say (see Will Solar Crash the Smart Grid?).

SMUD also plans to launch a so-called "feed-in tariff" program in January that would pay the owners of solar power systems and other renewable energy generation systems for their power, most likely at a higher rate. That could boost solar installations in its territory (see Green Light post).

GridPoint said its software can monitor and control solar power and storage in real time. Solar power could be diverted to batteries when grid power is plentiful, then discharged when it's facing peak demands for power, for example.

GridPoint is doing similar work for Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison, which wants to install solar panels, some with energy storage systems, in customers' homes. Those customers would also have control systems that could interpret variable prices to decide when to sell power back to the grid and when to store it.

Pilot projects testing various combinations of smart meters, solar power controls, energy storage systems, customer interfaces and variable pricing schemes are underway at utilities including Duke Energy, San Diego Gas & Electric, PNM Resources and in five "solar energy grid integration systems," or SEGIS, projects being funded by the Department of Energy (see Microgrids: $2.1B Market by 2015).

Several utilities have applied for DOE grants from a separate, $615 million pool of stimulus funds to pursue similar projects (see SoCal Edison Wants A123's Biggest Grid Battery Ever and Green Light posts here and here).

Interact with smart grid industry visionaries from North American utilities, innovative hardware and software vendors and leading industry consortiums at The Networked Grid on November 4 in San Francisco.