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SOLAR POWER: Tips for homeowners considering solar panel systems

roof repair

With solar power growing as an option for homeowners, here’s some things to consider when shopping for a system.

INSPECTION BASICS

Solar power installation on a home is a permit project. Mike Lara , the director of building and safety for Riverside County, has some tips for consumers:

Electrical service panel: Ask if the new system will require replacement of your current electrical service panel. That’s the box with the meter on it outside your home.

“You will be feeding additional electrical power through the panel, so it has to be sized properly” to handle inbound from the local utility company as well as the solar panels’ contribution.

Firefighter clearance: A rooftop panel array must allow space for firefighters to walk on the roof.

“If it’s a daytime fire the panel stays energized all the time,” Lara said. “We work with fire departments to make sure the panel layouts have a clear path.”

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Grading 10 Companies’ Commitments to Solar

commitment-to-solar“This is a market-making type of transaction,” prophesied SunPower CEO Tom Werner, after Apple recently awarded $850 million to First Solar for a 130-megawatt PV plant to green its world-beating empire. Let us pray, said the solarizers.

We’ll pray with data, of course, in this handy report card on corporate solar progress so far. Apple’s blockbuster deal with First Solar certainly sets both apart as a PV paragons although, as CEO Tim Cook will probably tell you himself, it was something of a renewable energy no-brainer. In the final analysis, the question is never really whether or not other titans will follow Apple’s example, but when? Are these corporations truly committing to solar, or are they focused on stalling innovations like net metering and distributed generation? Queries abound.

“Given the profile of Apple and their reputation, we think it’s going to stimulate a lot of other companies that may not have programs as active as Apple’s to ask questions,” First Solar CEO Jim Hughes said after the deal was announced. “Is there a smarter, better way we can procure our energy?”

Citizens spending hard-earned dollars to go solar also want to know who’s on their side. The goods news is that all of the following corporations are, after a fashion, throwing their political and economic clout into solar energy. The bad news is that some of them, even the best, have much more act to clean up.

Recreational Equipment Inc.
Grade: B Perhaps Earth’s best-known outdoor retailer, REI is aiming to be climate neutral by 2020 and has solarized 28 locations across eight states. Nationally, 21 percent of its facilities are solar powered, which puts it in the top five of commercial solar users, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Also, its former president and CEO, Sally Jewell, is now serving as the Secretary of Interior, which last year approved two First Solar farms with 550 megawatts of solar capacity on public land along the California-Nevada border. “Our clean energy future is bright,” Jewell promised in a statement. If you add Jewell’s solar bonafides from DOI to REI, then factor in that she once worked in the oil and banking industries, you’re left with a greening example of public-private partnership.
Grade: B

Duke Energy Like other power players in the energy market, Duke is trying to green its operations, lately paying $225 million to accelerate REC Solar‘s national deployment. Add that to the 150 megawatts of solar that Duke Energy company currently owns, plus the $500 million it recently shelled out to solarize North Carolina (where a frustrated Apple once had to build its own solar farms), and Duke’s negotiations on net metering and distributed generation in South Carolina feel less underwhelming — not to mention Duke’s own stance against net metering in NC. Of course, once you factor in Duke’s CO2 emissions, reportedly the second-largest in America, it’s hard to give it a passing grade.
Grade: D-

Citigroup One should never sneeze when the third largest bank on Earth creates a $100 billion climate change fund. Although there is some mystery as to just how much of that will be routed towards photovoltaics, Citigroup has already financed SunPower’s 579-megawatt Solar Star farm for Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, whose energy division accounts for 7 percent of America’s solar generation capacity. (Nor should it be ignored that Buffett dumped a $3.74 billion stake in Exxon.) Both Berkshire and Citigroup’s massive green maneuvers give hope that more banks and institutional investors will follow the example and exponentially solarize, but suspicious $50 billion tax write-offsaren’t making it happen any faster. Until then…
Grade: C

Costco According to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Solar Means Business 2014 report on top U.S. commercial solar users, Costco has installed nearly 50 megawatts of solar capacity, which is neck-in-neck with fellow retailer Kohl’s, but half as much as the clear leader, Walmart — which, like Costco, has also begun selling panels in its expansive stores. Unlike the flattening Kohl’s, however, Costco is only growing stronger, bringing solar power to the people in ways the retail market cannot. Same goes for other top solar users on SEIA’s list, such as Staples (failing) and Macy’s under siege), who may not have a future in a downsized shopping market. The silver lining? When the other stores fail, their next buyers will already have solar panels.
Grade: B-

General Motors If you sift through SEIA’s Solar Means Business 2014 report, you find that GM has solarized 43 percent of its facilities. second only to the runaway leader IKEA. It happily boasts of being “fueled by the sun” online, empowered by 46 megawatts and once the record-holder for world’s largest rooftop solar installation (until 2012). But when one asks GM what it has done lately for solarizers, one doesn’t get much response. There are exciting evolutions on other renewable energy fronts, like GM’s electrifying Bolt, which could bring much-needed EVs to a middle class that wants to green its commute but can’t afford a Tesla. But after Apple’s “market-making” move, promising to generate 125 megawatts by 2025 isn’t going to win GM much solar street cred, not after a $49.5 billion bailout from the people.
Grade: C-

General Electric: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy,” GE’s Solar 101 site quotes Thomas Edison on its shiny header, while claiming on its footer that the energy multinational “has been involved in solar energy research for decade.” GE’s deep pockets also bankrolled half of First Solar’s Desert Sunlight solar farm, which at last check was the largest solar plant in the world. But while GE has reportedly committed approximately $10 billion to renewable energy projects, less than $2 billion of that haul has gone to solar. That’s cheap compared to the $33.9 billion GE made from 2008-2013, for which it was given an overall tax refund of $2.9 billion by the IRS. GE and its billions may operate in “every aspect of the solar energy value chain,” as it explains in Solar 101, but until its commitment to solarization is in sync with its earnings and influence, it needs a greener makeover if it wants to be considered a solar role model.
Grade: D

IKEA: It has installed over 700,000 solar panels on its facilities, and now it even sells them in stores — at a discount for some. Missouri’s largest rooftop solar array is coming to an IKEA store; indeed, 90 percent of the Swedish company’s stores have panels on them. IKEA also plans to be energy-independent by 2020, no slouch, and is internationally deploying its low-cost, in-store solar offers to other countries. When it comes to what’s left of the lifestyle market, IKEA is light years ahead of its competitors. If we could only get them to stop cutting down trees…
Grade: B+

WalMart: One of the largest stockholders of First Solar, the Walton family is a corporate solar champ, of sorts. It has legendarily installed more solar capacity than its American competitors, 100 megawatts and rising. Walmart has also poured hundreds of millions into solarization with the help of SolarCity. But once you factor in Walmart’s increasing emissions, plus the millions it’s backstopping for anti-solar advocates like the ALEC and AEI, it’s championship status as a solar role model is thrown into relief. Detach that funding, however, and you have a different company, especially once deeper environmental regulations begin kicking in. The utility-scale solar farms favored by corporations like Walmart, and First Solar, have as much a place in our globally warmed future as residential solar’s distributed generation and net metering. Look down the road a few years and you’ll likely find the Walton family significantly boosting its already impressive solar capacity, while giving up on the anti-solar antics.
Grade: C


Apple:
 Not to be outdone by Wamart’s record solar capacity, Apple recently sealed a $850 million deal for what CEO Tim Cook called its “biggest, boldest and most ambitious project ever,” a power-purchase agreement for First Solar’s 150 megawatt California Flats project. First Solar promised the deal would significantly increase the entire state of California’s solar power supply, but that’s somewhat underselling Apple’s role. With billions to burn, Apple has given its new client First Solar, and in turn their major stockholder Walmart, enough work and money to make them temporary solar heroes, and perhaps even distract them from petty squabbles with the rooftop solar sector. As explained above, Walmart’s millions in funding for anti-solar advocates like ALEC and AEI is a loss leader. The astounding sum of Apple’s “biggest” project, so far but probably not for long, puts the lie to argument that rooftop solar is a threat to the business of utilities or their backers.
Grade: B

Google: The only future industry multinational that can (so far) match up to Apple, Google has lately cast its hundreds of millions into rooftop solar. It’s following the smart money predicting that residential solar financing could be a $6 billion dollar market by 2016, as both homeowners and businesses, such as the ones mentioned on this list, solarize everything in sight. Google’s recent money drop for SolarCity’s residential buildout totals $300 million, but its rich support for rooftop solar in the shadow of utility attacks is worth much more. That funding and influence has led to the first joint yieldco from First Solar and SunPower, which is a detente of sorts between two titans at the utility and residential scale. It’s doubtlessly the first of many to come as both the utility and residential sectors unite to solarize America, as fossil fuels are forcibly decoupled from the nation’s economy and infrastructure. Until they do, Google is the corporate solar role model to beat.
Grade: A-

These are just 10 of the big company commitments to solar that have made headlines recently. Regardless of how big and fast — or how small and slow — companies are doing on going solar, the fact that so many of them are being vocal about solar in the first place is yet another sign that solar is the future.

 

Obama launching training program for solar

Obama launches solar training program for veterans

Obama launching training program for solarPresident Obama launched a program Friday to train outgoing military personnel and veterans to work in the solar power sector.

He announced the initiative Friday at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, which has solar panels on site and uses them to provide 20 percent of its electricity. The White House first unveiled the program earlier Friday.

The president used the speech as an opportunity to boast about the success of the solar power sector, and sell it as a prime opportunity for military veterans. He toured the solar installation before the speech.

“The solar industry is adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy,” Obama said, quoting 2014 employment figures. “They’re good-paying jobs that are helping folks enter in the middle class. And today what we’re going to try to do is to build on the progress that’s already been made.”

 

Debbie Dooley

Tea party figure coming to Louisiana to fight to save solar power tax credit

Debbie DooleyLouisiana’s solar power industry is bringing in a big tea party gun to fight the Jindal administration’s assault on a tax break it says is vital to its survival.

The daughter of a Bogalusa preacher who now lives in Atlanta,  was one of the 22 organizers of the first nationwide tea party protest in 2009.

Perhaps showing that conservative philosophies are not monolithic, Dooley rails against corporate domination at the expense of individuals when a frequent guest of conservative commentators like Sean Hannity. She’s been profiled in The New Yorker for rallying to the support of solar power, even as some right-wing powerhouses like the American Legislative Exchange Council push their members, some of whom are Louisiana legislators, to dismantle it.

The issue for Dooley is not so much the cutting-edge technology that produces renewable energy but government policies that favor big utilities and multinational fossil-fuel corporations at the expense of a competing industry.

 

solar revolution

The Revolution will be Solarized

solar revolutionThere’s a clean energy revolution happening in California – and it has the potential to topple the old polluting forces while fighting climate change with the power of the sun.

California is not only producing the most solar power in the country – 8.5 gigawatts, enough to power two million homes – it’s producing more solar power than the rest of the country combined. In 2014 alone, the state more than doubled its solar power, becoming the first state to generate five percent of its total electricity from utility-scale solar. This record does not even count rooftop solar and distributed generation (where California also leads the country), bringing the state closer to an estimated seven percent of its total power generation from free sunshine.

The solar industry employs more than 54,000 Californians – nearly one-third of all solar workers in the nation – and solar jobs in the state grew by 16 percent in 2014 alone (compared to 2.2 percent overall state job growth in 2014). California solar jobs are expected to grow by another 17 percent in 2015.

California cities are the vanguard of this revolution, with Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento leading the charge. New research finds that California’s cities and urban centers could generate enough solar to meet the state’s power needs three to five times over, without developing a single additional acre of the state’s natural areas.

This solar revolution could not come sooner for my hometown of Los Angeles. The city is in a fight to rid itself of coal power by 2025, while also battling the impacts of climate change that are stressing our energy grid and worsened by fossil fuels.

Los Angeles’ historic heatwaves are expected to increase in number and frequency in the coming decades; some regions will experience triple or quadruple the number of heat days. The city broke its all-time record for energy demand last year on a particularly hot day, with nearly double the peak energy demand experienced on a typical day in the city. Pollution-free solar power can help us convert a potentially dangerous heat source into a source of cooling.

Statewide, record heatwaves will continue to drive up energy demand while the worst drought in at least 1,200 years and record-low snowpack has slashed in half the state’s available hydro-electric power. To help make our energy future less vulnerable to these and other impacts of climate change, we need a clean energy revolution now more than ever.

But, here’s the thing about a good revolution: it can’t rely on a few remarkable events, it needs a solid foundation to sustain itself and it needs to empower people, the true lifeblood of any revolution.

Forward-thinking state policy has been a solid foundation and driving force, including the Governor’s recent commitment to achieve 50 percent of California’s total energy from renewable sources by 2030. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has the opportunity to develop clear plans to integrate renewable energy, energy efficiency, advanced storage, and other enabling technologies that can displace dirty “peaker” power plants to balance the grid during periods of variability or when electricity demand exceeds supply.

Speaking of balancing the grid, we need to move our energy demand to align with our peak solar production (when the sun is shining brightest, roughly 11 AM to 4 PM). Right now, most electricity demand occurs later in the evening when people get home from work and flip on their appliances and electronics, causing a mismatch between demand and clean energy supply. Fortunately, policies like ‘Time of Use’ pricing and ‘Demand Response’ – energy management tools that incentivize customers to reduce their energy use during times of high demand – can put the power in the hands of the people to advance the clean energy revolution and displace dirty and costly fossil fuels.

Finally, and most importantly, any worthwhile revolution needs to uplift and empower all people. Our clean energy revolution needs to be equitable, affordable, and accessible to all Californians, especially low income people, communities of color, and communities overburdened by fossil fuel pollution. While there are still many equity questions to answer, we are making great strides forward.

Step outside into the sunshine, California’s clean energy revolution is happening live!

 

climate change

Why FEMA Wants Your State to Stop Ignoring Climate Change

climate changeThe Federal Emergency Management Agency wants states to do a better job planning for the natural disasters they are likely to face in a warming world. Beginning next year, the agency will require states to evaluate the risks that climate change poses to their communities in order to gain access to millions of dollars of disaster preparedness funding.

Environmentalists are praising the plan. But some on the right are furious, claiming that the Obama administration is seeking to punish states whose governors dispute the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are warming the planet. “FEMA toys with denying disaster funds for states that doubt global warming,” warned the Drudge Report.

The new requirement won’t affect the post-disaster relief that communities receive after being devastated by hurricanes or tornados. Rather, the change comes as part of FEMA’s revision to its State Hazard Mitigation Plan guidelines.

 

utility solar

California leads nation in solar installations as world sees 14% increase

utility solarCalifornia became the first state to generate more than 5% of its electricity from utility solar, according a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

California’s utility-scale (1 megawatt or larger) solar plants generated a record 9.9 million mega watt hours (MWh) of electricity in 2014, an increase of 6.1 million MWh from 2013. California’s utility-scale solar production in 2014 was more than three times the output of the next-highest state, Arizona, and more than all other states combined, according to the EIA.

Last year, several large solar power plants were phased into operation in the Golden State. Those plants include the Topaz and Desert Sunlight 550MW solar photovoltaic plants, the 377MW Ivanpah plant and the 250MW Genesis solar thermal plant. In total, nearly 1,900MW of new utility-scale solar capacity was added, bringing the state’s utility-scale capacity for all solar technologies to 5,400MW by the end of 2014 — enough new capacity to power more than 1.05 million typical households.

 

Kaiser Permanente buys 153 MW of wind and solar power

kaiser permanente goes renewableKaiser Permanente’s recent announcement that it would purchase enough renewable energy to meet half of its electricity consumption in California made big news, from the Bay Area (such as here and here) to the cleantech and sustainable business communities to national outlets (witness here and here).

The health care provider’s deal with project developer NextEra Energy Resources for 110 megawatts of solar and 43 megawatts of wind power capacity is unique in its origins and instructive for other companies seeking to meet their sustainability goals. It also is an excellent example of the progress promoted by the Business Renewables Center, an RMI-convened and member-led platform that accelerates corporate procurement of off-site renewable energy by bringing together corporate buyers, project developers, and service providers (including founding members Kaiser Permanente and NextEra Energy Resources).

CORPORATE RENEWABLE ENERGY MOTIVATIONS: CLIMATE CHANGE IS A HEALTH ISSUE

Why would a major health care organization care about clean energy? Kaiser Permanente believes climate change is a health issue. Emissions from fossil fuel-powered generators—both directly (air pollution) and indirectly (e.g., global warming that impacts mosquito and disease spread, ozone levels, and heat stress)—are closely tied to human health. And so Kaiser Permanente is leading by example, aggressively pursuing renewable energy to slash its own carbon profile and encouraging others to follow suit.

Kaiser Permanente took a significant step in 2012, when it adopted a sustainable energy policy with the target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent below 2008 levels by 2020. Its initial efforts focused on increasing energy efficiency, onsite generation, and other means of procuring green power, but it soon recognized that these strategies would not be sufficient to meet its goal. “As an organization that is constantly adding members and building hospitals and medical offices, achieving our 30-percent greenhouse gas reduction goal was not possible through energy conservation and distributed generation alone,” explains Chief Energy Officer Ramé Hemstreet. “Reduced energy intensity was being offset by new facilities and equipment, and even Kaiser Permanente has only so many roofs and parking lots that can accommodate solar.”

MAKING OFF-SITE RENEWABLE ENERGY DEALS A REALITY

How did Kaiser Permanente realize its goal to procure off-site renewable energy? It had wisely laid the groundwork by establishing its motivation (the 2012 policy and emissions reduction target) and building internal familiarity through the experience of doing power purchase agreements for on-site generation. Even so, this was a significant transaction that required strong and savvy leadership, substantial expertise, and the right balance of perseverance and patience. Kaiser Permanente’s deal team engaged the right external advisers, identified a list of potential project developers with which to partner, issued the RFQ to that list, ultimately selected NextEra Energy Resources as the best fit, and worked with NextEra to reach a deal that made financial sense for both parties. At the same time, the deal team realized it needed to champion the opportunity with internal stakeholders and adeptly navigated the appropriate internal processes to validate the transaction.

The resulting off-site deal will have a large impact. Kaiser Permanente consumes about 1.6 terawatt-hours of electricity every year across its 38 hospitals, 600 medical offices, and other facilities, mostly in California but also in seven other states and the District of Columbia. The off-site wind and solar projects alone will produce enough electricity to meet about one third of that consumption overall, or more than 40 percent of its consumption in California (additional onsite renewable generation will bring the total to 50 percent in state). In total, Kaiser Permanente’s renewable generation in California will avoid 215,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of removing more than 45,000 cars from California’s roads.

LESSONS LEARNED: CHALLENGES EN ROUTE TO SUCCESS

Those looking to duplicate Kaiser Permanente’s success should begin by focusing on three things:

  • Assembling the right team. Kaiser Permanente’s deal team included vice presidents in its facilities department (one of whom was also its chief sustainable resources officer) as well as specialists from its energy, treasury, procurement, controller, and public affairs groups. That leadership and breadth allowed the deal team to effectively navigate the range of potential issues, procedures, and approvals faced during the course of the initiative. The deal team both possessed technical expertise and evinced the flexibility and innovation required to move a large organization to consider a transaction unlike any it had done before.
  • Solidifying the justification message. Kaiser Permanente’s internal deal team was able to articulate how the deal was both consistent with the organization’s mission and economically feasible. The team knew that too little attention to the deal’s economics and related financial and accounting issues might have given C-suite executives and others reason to doubt the team’s competence to reach the desired outcomes. At the same time, too much focus on the deal’s economics would have risked those internal stakeholders viewing the proposed transaction through a financial lens alone. According to Hemstreet, “our mantra in regards to the economics was appropriate for a health care organization: ‘do no harm.’ The team focused on achieving the GHG reduction goal without increasing energy costs.”
  • Viewing the deal as having both external and internal process milestones, and managing it accordingly. Kaiser Permanente’s deal team attended to not only the mechanical steps of identifying and negotiating a potential deal, navigating it through execution, and implementing it, but also to the internal stakeholder engagement process—what one might term the psychological aspects of the deal. The latter commonly arise from the fact that a proposal to do something fundamentally new and highly complex is likely to induce some level of discomfort: nobody wishes to be responsible for overlooking a detail that later could cause problems for the organization. Recognizing this, the deal team allocated significant resources to making internal stakeholders comfortable with the deal through processes tailored to Kaiser Permanente’s highly collaborative culture. For example, the deal team built support among regional executives rather than relying solely on a top-down decision imposed on them.

These lessons are just the beginning. Many companies in Kaiser Permanente’s position have needed to build their internal capability to complete these deals from the ground up. Fortunately, Kaiser Permanente, NextEra Energy Resources, and other BRC members offer unprecedented transparency into the inner workings of deals like this one, so that collectively we can streamline processes, improve success and time to completion rates, and remove or lower barriers. Thanks to the BRC and its members, everyone benefits from shared learning, rather than having to go it alone and start from scratch each time.

 

Marubeni

Japanese trading conglomerate Marubeni moves into residential solar

MarubeniOne of Japan’s largest trading companies, Marubeni, which is already involved in both upstream and downstream sectors of PV industry, has entered the domestic market for residential solar.

Marubeni announced yesterday that its offering will include modules, inverters and mounting systems. Typically residential solar in Japan is marketed in complete kit form by most providers in this way.

PV Tech spoke to Alessandro Fujisaka of Marubeni America at PV Expo in Tokyo in late February. Fujisaka said the company’s residential kits will include panels from Chinese tier-one supplier JA Solar, mounting systems by US manufacturer ZEP Solar and inverters by local company Omron.

commercial solar

Here’s How US Commercial Solar Can Bounce Back in 2015

commercial solarIn 2014, the U.S. commercial market segment was surpassed by the residential segment for the first time in decades. According to the most recent U.S. Solar Market Insight report, the commercial segment saw 1,036 megawatts come on-line in 2014, down 6 percent year-over-year. However, GTM Research sees this as just another dip in the tracks of the commercial market roller coaster.

GTM Research forecasts the market to rebound in 2015, growing 40 percent over its 2014 total. In the latest Executive Briefing for subscribing solar clients, Senior Analyst Cory Honeyman outlines three growth opportunities for the commercial segment that he is watching closely.

Before we dive into the opportunities, here are some of the challenges facing commercial installations:

 

solar sunset

US: Best practices guides aim to lower financing costs for solar energy systems

solar sunsetThe Solar Access to Public Capital (SAPC), a working group convened by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), has released new best practices guidelines for solar PV systems with the goal of increasing investor confidence in the long-term viability of PV systems.

SAPC subcommittees, each involving dozens of solar and finance entities, developed the guides, SAPC Best Practices in PV System Installation and SAPC Best Practices in PV Operations and Maintenance.

SAPC is comprised of 425 members representing the PV market chain, including development, legal, financial, accounting, engineering and other segments engaged in solar asset deployment, finance and operation.

 

 

solar as a grid resource

How to Deploy Solar as a Grid Resource

solar as a grid resourceWhen I pass through the residential and commercial areas of a city, it’s interesting to note which homes and businesses have solar panels on their roofs, and then to think about why those particular buildings are the ones with solar. Are the owners or occupants simply more environmentally conscious or climate concerned than their neighbors? Or perhaps they’re interested in self-sufficiency and energy independence? Or maybe they just had the financial means to jump on a solid economic investment with a higher upfront cost but compelling long-term ROI?

Reasons like these aren’t unique to solar. The same could be said about why some properties have lawns and others have drought-tolerant landscaping, or why some buildings have energy-efficient windows while others have single-pane. What’s different here is that with solar PV we’re talking about an interconnected piece of the electric grid, with the ability to directly influence the operation of everything from a transformer down the street to a power plant hundreds of miles away. There’s an opportunity to use distributed PV to better utilize the existing electricity system, which not only makes that PV more valuable to the individual customers who install it but also by reducing the cost to operate the grid, thus benefiting all customers.

ASSESSING THE OPPORTUNITY

In practical terms, it’s fair to say that the deployment of distributed PV today is fairly arbitrary. PV panels are installed wherever there’s a customer who wants them. Make no mistake—that’s a good thing! It’s important that anyone who wants it has access to solar PV, whether on a homeowner’s own roof or through a shared solar project. But there’s also an untapped opportunity to strategically deploy distributed PV so that it provides the right service, in the right place, at the right time. Distributed PV can create benefits and costs to the electric grid in numerous ways, and there are many potential strategies for optimizing those benefits and costs to maximize PV’s usefulness as an electricity system resource. In particular, two such strategies that can be implemented today are:

  • Siting in hot spots. Some areas of the grid—hot spots—are more congested than others. Just like a highway, when everyone is using the grid at the same time (such as when turning on the A/C on a hot afternoon) electricity “traffic” can build up and create problems. Utilities eventually have to add capacity (like adding a lane to a highway), which is expensive. But distributed PV can often be installed in a hot spot to offset load (which is like taking some of those cars off the highway). When done right (so that the PV takes enough cars off the road at the right time of day), this can defer or obviate the need for that expensive capacity investment.
  • Aligning with load. Demand for electricity tends to peak at different times in different areas. This is true at both a macro scale (for example, think about how weather can differ between Oregon and Texas on a given day) and a micro scale (like if one side of a city consists of residences where everyone gets home and turns on their oven at 5:00 p.m., while on the other side are factories that run from 7:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.). Meanwhile, the amount of power a PV panel produces at a given time depends on the angle of its tilt (i.e., flat vs. upright) and orientation (i.e., east vs. south vs. west). Just as installing solar PV in the right places on the distribution grid can relieve the most congested “highways,” so can solar PV reduce the electric grid’s “rush hour” by taking electron cars off the road at the right time of day by matching the tilt and orientation of our PV with the needs of the grid (locally and/or system-wide). This can help not only with capacity investments, but can also offset high-cost “peaking” power plants (and numerous other benefits).

DEPLOYING SOLAR AS A GRID RESOURCE

To capture the value from these opportunities to increase operational benefits, utilities and solar companies will need to collaboratively optimize distributed PV deployment. RMI’s recent report Bridges to New Solar Business Models helped to explain how:

  • Identify optimal timing and locations. To successfully increase value, utilities and solar companies can proactively work together to identify the specific sites and PV configurations that would be most beneficial. Solar companies can contribute their experience with PV projects to help screen for project economic viability and installation feasibility, while utilities can leverage their knowledge of grid operations and the broader system’s needs to screen for operational compatibility. Once identified, optimal locations can be communicated in a variety of ways; for instance, the utility could issue a request for proposal (RFP) for individual projects, or could send pricing signals to direct development.
  • Incorporate multiple project types. A model that incorporates strategic deployment of PV needn’t be limited to a single type of project. These concepts are equally applicable for projects ranging from rooftop solar installations to large shared solar arrays at a distribution substation, and for customer-, utility-, and third-party-owned arrangements. In practice, physical limitations, system needs, and existing regulations may constrain the range of possible projects, but pricing signals and RFPs should be designed to allow for a variety of project types.
  • Provide physical assurance. To realize the opportunities at the identified locations, it’s important that PV projects meet the performance expected of them. Utilities must ensure that distributed PV systems designed to optimize operational benefits are able to perform as expected with a high level of certainty, and that they won’t compromise reliability. Pricing signals or RFPs should make these expectations explicit, providing solar companies clear targets as they design, procure equipment for, and install projects. The utility can then manage grid integration and monitor project performance to ensure that projects meet stated performance specifications.
  • Prioritize education and outreach. Because of the complexity inherent in the process of identifying optimal locations and configurations for PV deployment, clear and transparent communication is critical to the success of this model. As a trusted voice, it will be incumbent on the utility to educate both customers and solar companies on project design features that optimize the temporal aspects of distributed PV generation. Possibilities range from direct outreach to specific customers, to developing maps that highlight the targeted areas and soliciting applications from interested parties. Solar companies can similarly explain to customers the benefits of hosting a project, including revenues, public relations, and educational opportunities.

Several existing utility efforts have included some of these components. For example, Con Edison (Con Ed)—at the behest of the New York Public Service Commission (PSC)—has proposed to avoid a $1 billion substation investment by instead using a portfolio of demand- and utility-side resources (including PV). The Brooklyn-Queens Demand Management (BQDM) program will combat projected load growth by procuring 52 MW of non-traditional solutions within the Brooklyn-Queens hot spot to reduce the area’s peak load. The BQDM program also includes 6 MW of traditional utility-side measures, two new substation transformers, and 91 MW of load transfers. In total, the program and related measures are slated to cost roughly $505 million. While a $500 million reduction in investment might not normally be very appealing to a regulated utility, the NY PSC (recognizing the BQDM program’s consistency with the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision proceeding goals) has offered a 100-basis-point adder to Con Ed’s return on equity (dependent on performance).

TURNING CONCEPTS INTO ACTION

All of the strategic deployment concepts outlined here can be implemented today in much of the U.S., without additional regulatory reform. To get started, utilities and solar companies should begin to discuss how to design new solar business models that incorporate these concepts while addressing any concerns. Through this collaborative process they can determine how best to shape several specific aspects of the business model to fit their situation. These situation-specific aspects include the mechanism used to direct deployment, data collection and sharing, and company roles in long-term operation and maintenance of installations.

There are, however, several actions that stakeholders can take to streamline this process and ensure that the needs of all stakeholders are met. In some situations, regulatory mechanisms will need to be implemented to incentivize the utility to prioritize distributed PV where it is the least-cost option, and must do so in a way that ensures the utility optimizes both grid value and customer value together. Elsewhere, both utilities and solar companies can provide guidance to regulators regarding rules to govern reasonable physical assurance. In addition, utilities may need to develop or procure new tools that enable holistic planning and operational management of distributed PV resources, and must take steps to work across internal and external silos.

There are clear pathways to using distributed solar as a grid resource to benefit the grid and society. But to realize—and maximize—the value that distributed PV provides to the grid it will be important for utilities and solar companies to collaborate as they fine tune new solar business models. Ultimately, distributed PV can be used to operate the grid more efficiently, reducing the cost to operate the system and benefitting everyone.

Download Bridges to New Solar Business Models: Opportunities to Increase and Capture the Value of Distributed Solar Photovoltaics

 

renewables and the grid

Three trends that get the grid to 70% renewables by mid-century

renewables and the gridFor a decade, electricity system operators have wrestled with how to respond to the challenge of growing renewables, but a change has come.

System operators are now looking to solar and wind as a solution — rather than the problem — in their drive for more affordable reliability. But realizing the grid of the future necessitates some basic changes, regulators, utilities, and system operators are thinking about resource planning, pricing, and integration.

“Wind and solar can provide nearly anything a system or network operator wants except power on demand if they are given reason to do it,” explained DNV GL Senior Consultant Felicity Jones, co-author of the new report “Beyond Integration; Three dynamics reshaping renewables and the grid.”

community solar

Solar Power To Become Cheapest Source Of Energy In Many Regions By 2025

community solarSolar power still amounts for a small share of net electricity generation around the world. In the USA, for instance, as of December 2014 it was responsiblefor just 0.45% of the total electricity produced.

Things are changing quite quickly, however, and if the German think tank Agora Energiewende is right, faster than expected.

The main obstacle to a more widespread adoption of photovoltaic so far, has been cost: solar used to be very expensive compared to coal or gas, but, according to Agora – that recently commissioned a study on the subject to the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems – this is no longer true.

Solar power – researchers say – thanks to technological advancements, is already cost-effective in some sunny regions: in Dubai, a long-term power purchase contract was signed recently for 5 cents per kilowatt hour. Projects under construction in Brazil, Uruguay and other countries are reported to produce at costs below 7 ct/KWh.