Significant reductions in the cost of solar photovoltaic modules have been coupled with the emergence of innovative financial tools and resulted in dramatic increases in the development of distributed renewable energy generation systems. The deep penetration of solar energy throughout our nation's electric sector is dependent on successfully integrating distributed generation, storage, and demand management systems. Achieving this challenge will require improvements to component technologies coupled with paradigm shifts in how energy systems and controls are conceived, developed, tested, and deployed in the marketplace. An integrative approach to meet this challenge is presented including the formation of a collaboration platform for academic and industry partners that is coordinated around a physical smart grid test bed embedded in a large unregulated electric grid. The value adding processes of this ecosystem for research, education, and market deployment are described based on two years of operation. Specific strategies for the advancement of smart grid solutions leading to the deep penetration of renewable energy are also presented including topics of distributed generation, energy efficiency, advanced metering and controls, and cyber security. Implications of these strategies on research, education, and workforce development are also described.