SAN FRANCISCO -- Petra Solar of New Jersey is a different kind ofsolarfirm. We've covered the VC-backed firm over the course of the last few years -- they differentiate themselves by straddling the worlds of solar panels and the smart grid.  

Petra is a supplier of microinverters integrated with other vendor's solar modules, but they're not really a pure AC-module manufacturer. Their microinverter provides reactive voltage injection capability, allowing the modules to balance the sometimes grid-destabilizing character of solar power. Petra's VAR injection and Low Voltage Ride-Through features were developed in part with funding from the DOE's SEGIS program. They prefer to call their products "smart energy modules."

In July 2009, Petra Solar signed a $200 million agreement with New Jersey utility Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) to supply 200,000 utility pole-mounted units over three and a half years. Many of Petra’s pole-mounted systems utilize Suntech PV panels.

The "smart energy modules" operate independently from a central control system and are able to react quickly to changing grid conditions. Implementing this system across thousands of poles, as Petra is currently contracted to do, creates a multi-megawatt system that takes advantage of the fundamental advantage of distributed optimizations, namely, that they are an independent and optimized system.

The 170-employee startup is installing one megawatt per month or 300 poles per day. And the great boon of this power pole strategy is that each panel is "incrementally commissioned" in the words of Petra's VP of Development and Product Management, Joe DeLuca.  There are no siting, permitting or environmental issues. The utility garners kilowatt-hours and SRECs. I spoke with DeLuca at the Intersolar tradeshow.

Dr. Shihab Kuran, the CEO and founder of Petra is Jordanian as are some of the other senior staff at the firm, hence the name Petra. That connection to Jordan has also initiated Petra's next large project -- working with Jordan's utility to roll out more than 100 megawatts of solar on power poles and rooftops.

Despite Jordan's Mideast location, Jordan is not blessed with oil reserves and the country is dependent on gas imports via pipeline from Egypt. In fact 25 percent of Jordan's GDP is spent on imported energy.

Petra is working with the highest levels of the Jordanian government and has signed an MOU for two projects -- 75 megawatts and 50 megawatts of solar in the country. It's an ambitious project as it involves working with the nation to create a feed-in-tariff regualtory climate along with an energy efficieincy program in order to deploy the Petra products.

Since the project will be "Blanketing a town with solar, you're going to have localized voltage issues," according to DeLuca -- and that's a perfect application for Petra's grid-compensatiing solar panels.

The project is still in the early MOU stages but could provide a model for other oil-dependent nations. Like Jordan. And the United States.