solar project completion

NREL Takes First In-Depth Look at Solar Project Completion Timelines

solar project completionThe Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has gathered and analyzed data for more than 30,000 solar photovoltaic (PV) installations across the United States to better understand how interconnection regulations align with actual project completion timelines. The findings indicate that interconnection process delays are common, and can range from several days to months. Streamlining the application review and final authorization processes can ultimately benefit utilities and solar consumers by reducing the time and cost associated with going solar.

“We now have a clearer understanding of the different process elements associated with connecting a PV system to the grid, such as how long it takes to review and approve an application for interconnection, how long it takes to construct and inspect a system, and how long it takes to get final authorization from the utility,” said the report’s lead author, Kristen Ardani, a solar technology markets and policy analyst at NREL. “This report represents the first data-driven evaluation of how PV deployment time frames compare to state regulations in key solar markets.”

The authors of the report, “Understanding Processes and Timelines for Distributed Photovoltaic Interconnection in the United States,” examined PV project data across 87 utility territories and 16 states. NREL found that for the residential and small commercial (less than 50 kilowatts) systems sampled, it took an average of 63 total business days (median 53) from the date a PV installer submits an interconnection application to when the utility grants permission to operate. However, there is wide variation around these values, ranging from less than one week to more than six months. System construction represents the fastest part of the process, taking an average of four business days (median two days). Interconnection application review and approval accounted for the most time of any single process examined in this analysis, requiring an average of 27 business days (median of 18 days) to complete.

The report also provides state-level findings based on an analysis of five states with active solar markets-Arizona, California, Colorado, New Jersey, and New York. The research suggests that states with more stringent interconnection time frame regulations might reduce overall project length. However, such regulations do not necessarily limit time frames to the targets specified by interconnection standards. Additional insights on the research effort and report findings are available through a STAT Chat podcast and an educational webinar.

The impetus and data for this project were identified through stakeholder discussions facilitated through the Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative (DGIC), a working-group consortium of more than 100 members. NREL facilitates the DGIC with support from the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) to foster knowledge sharing on distributed PV interconnection practices, research, and innovation.

This body of work is supported by the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative, which is a national effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by the end of the decade. Through SunShot, the Energy Department supports private companies, universities, and national laboratories working to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour. Learn more at

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.


solar myths

11 Solar Energy Mythbusters

solar mythsDon’t think solar works for you? You could be wrong! A lot of myths swirl around solar energy that prevent people from making a well-informed decision about whether it’s right for them. PURE Energies, an NRG Home Solar Company, tackled 10 of the biggest myths about solar energy that you SHOULDN’T believe. I’ve added one of my own, because it’s the one that initially most got in my way when I was thinking about going solar.

Myth 1 – I should wait until solar technology gets more efficient. Solar technology actually hasn’t changed much since the 1960s. In fact, it’s one of the most stable technologies we can use. That, plus the 30 percent federal solar tax credit and many state incentive programs, make solar a technology worth installing right now.

Myth 2 – Solar doesn’t work when it’s cool, cloudy or foggy. Solar panels still produce significant energy when it’s foggy, chilly, or overcast. Surprising fact: solar panels on a rooftop in cool and foggy San Francisco produce only one percent less electricity than those on a rooftop in hot, sunny Sacramento.

PG&E green option

PG&E Plans to Offer Customers a Community Solar Choice in 2015

PGE solarPacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) today received permission from state regulators to offer electric customers a new clean energy program that will provide up to 100 percent solar power for a modest cost premium each month. PG&E expects to start enrolling customers in the fourth quarter of this year.

“Our green option is all about giving customers the power to choose and about bringing the benefits of solar to our communities. Our customers already enjoy some of the cleanest power in the United States, but we want to help them do even more to support clean energy and the green economy. Our green option will let them buy into a pool of clean solar energy, locally produced in our service area, to meet all of their electricity needs,” said Chris Johns, president of PG&E.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that only a quarter of residential rooftop area is suitable for solar due to structural, shading, or ownership issues. “Clearly, community options are needed to expand access to solar power for renters, those with shaded roofs, and those who choose not to install a residential system on their home for financial or other reasons,”conluded an NREL report.

PG&E will buy energy for the program from newly developed small and mid-sized solar projects located within its service area. Participating residential and commercial customers can choose to cover either 50 or 100 percent of their energy use. They will pay the incremental cost of the new solar energy they consume, as well as related program costs. The initial estimated premium of two-to-three cents per kilowatt-hour likely will fall over time as solar costs decline relative to the cost of PG&E’s standard power, which is more than 25 percent renewable today.

Under a separate program option, customers will be able to contract directly with a third-party developer for a share of the output of a local solar project.

Elected leaders from cities around PG&E’s service territory have supported PG&E’s efforts to give local residents options for greener energy. So have leaders of several environmental organizations.

“This program offers a great opportunity for PG&E customers who want to reduce carbon pollution and buy 100 percent clean energy,” said Peter Miller, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “PG&E’s green option is a big win for Californians and the environment.”

Hawaii’s Biggest Utility Wants to End Net Metering Even as it Plans to Triple Rooftop Solar

520-hawaii-solarLast week Hawaiian Electric Companies (HECO) announced its plan to triple the amount of rooftop solar in its service area on Maui, Oahu and the Big Island. At the same time however, it proposed gutting net metering—one of the most popular incentive programs to support the expansion of rooftop solar power across the country.

The utility filed its proposal with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission last week. In its proposal it outlined its plans to move from the current net metering scheme for rooftop solar under which it reimburses customers with rooftop solar power for the power they put back on the grid. Instead it would enact a tariff system for future customers that choose to install rooftop solar. The changes, it said, would help the utility source 65 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

“We want to ensure a sustainable rooftop solar program to help our customers lower their electric bills,” said Alan Oshima, Hawaiian Electric president and CEO. “That means taking an important first step by transitioning to a program where all customers are fairly sharing in the cost of the grid we all rely on.”


dow solar shingles

Shedding light on solar shingles

dow solar shinglesBIPV is a quickly growing sector of the global solar market. Transparency Market Research expects this area to grow by 18.7% by 2019, reaching 1.15 GW. One BIPV product picking up popularity is the solar shingle.

By nature of their design, solar shingles are primarily geared for the residential market, said Josh Wimble, communications manager at Dow Solar, manufacturer of the Powerhouse Solar Shingle. This is because sloped shingle and tile rooftops are most often found on single-family homes.


Arizona solar leasing

Arizona Corporation Commission Launches Probe Into Solar Leasing Practices

Arizona solar leasingThe Arizona Corporation Commission decided on Friday to launch an investigation into the business practices of the rooftop solar industry, a move that aims to address mounting concerns that solar leasing companies are misleading consumers.

Leasing is the most popular avenue for going solar because it’s seen as a way for homeowners to save money and energy without the upfront costs of buying solar systems outright. In Arizona, roughly 80 percent of all solar customers lease their systems.

But consumers, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and Congress members have been raising concerns that leasing companies might be using deceptive marketing and overstating the cost savings to homeowners. Several Democratic and Republican members of Congress, including Kyrsten Sinema and Matt Salmon, among other Arizona lawmakers, have recently sent letters to the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau requesting the matter be looked into.



Have solar panels? Here are 5 things that could affect your finances

solanaArizonans who support solar power, especially those who already have solar technology for their homes, face five key issues this year that could affect their finances:

  1. Thousands of homeowners, churches and schools who lease rooftop solar will see new tax bills this year unless state lawmakers take action to stop the fees. 

Arizonans who own solar panels don’t pay property taxes on them, but the Arizona Department of Revenue has decided that the exemption does not apply to solar panels that are leased.

The department sent valuation notices to companies, such as Sunrun Inc. and SolarCity Corp., that own solar systems and lease them to homeowners and commercial properties. The companies have clauses in their contracts that would pass the tax bills on to their leasing customers.

Arizona utility introduces residential solar program

A utility in southern Arizona is attempting to head off the proliferation of private solar leasing rooftops and exercise control over where installations occur by installing its own systems on customers’ houses.

Tucson Electric Power (TEP) has announced it will launch a Residential Solar Program in the spring for 500-600 of its 414,000 customers.

Under the terms of the program, customers will pay a one-off $250 administration fee to join and TEP – in partnership with ‘local solar companies’ – will install and maintain household systems.


power forward blog

2015: The Year of The Consumer

power forward blogIn 2014, the residential solar industry saw unprecedented growth, installing nearly 60 percent more solar than last year, but the years ahead are poised for even greater adoption of solar by consumers across the country. Here’s why.

Consumers Will Hold the Power

In 2006, Time magazine chose “You” as their Person of the Year – a nod to the millions of people who contributed content to online sites like YouTube and Facebook, and began to influence society and the economy in a way we’ve never seen before. As editor Lev Grossman wrote, “It’s about the many wresting power from the few…and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.”

Eight years later, 2015 will be the year of the consumer in residential solar. In 2014, the industry fought tooth and nail in 40 states to combat monopoly utility attacks on rooftop solar. These victories were due in large part to those consumers who spoke up and showed up to rallies in support of the industry – in polls conducted across the country, 80 to 90 percent of voters across party lines support rooftop solar. These utility attacks will continue in 2015, and public leaders and policymakers must answer to the will of the people.


arizona residential solar

TEP’s ‘rent-a-roof’ would offer cheap solar power for homes

arizona residential solarArizona’s most abundant natural resource could arguably be the sun. Tucson Electric Power wants to start using more of it by enlisting homeowners to lend it their rooftops, potentially taking business away from smaller solar companies.

The project is still on the drawing board, but it may be a reality in the next couple of months.

To be part of this hypothetical program, a homeowner would be asked for a $250 installation fee.

On the other hand, buying solar panels yourself could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Homeowners wouldn’t own TEP’s system, but they would see some of its benefits.

“It’s not like they will be getting free solar, they will be paying for it in their bill,” said TEP Spokesperson Joe Barrios.

Once the panels are installed, the homeowner’s current electric rates would be locked in for the next 25 years. The power generated from the roof would be fed back into the grid.

plug-and-play solar

Plug-and-Play Solar Panels Come to Life with First Public Installation

plug-and-play solarYou want to go solar. So you head to the store, buy some panels, slap them on your roof in 10 hours, then watch the savings roll in and the emissions decrease. Congratulations, you have changed the world in a day!

This is the macrocosmic view of Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy’s (CSE) promising new Plug and Play PV Systems, whose successful public installation and interconnection aptly unveiled in Boston pretty close to Thanksgiving. The microcosmic view really isn’t that much more technical: CSE’s system is a no-brainer solar job you can daisychain on your roof, plug into the utility meter and immediately solarize and save. During its demo, it took Fraunhofer a single hour to complete the installation and commissioning of its plug-and-play solar panels. Next up? A commercial-ready system demonstration in 2015.

“What is particularly unique about this project is that it doesn’t just stop at technology development but is a comprehensive approach, including integration with the utilities and jurisdictions,” CSE director and Plug and Play PV project principal Christian Hoepfner explained in a press release. “As an applied R&D organization, our focus is on getting technologies – especially those that will impact society and drive clean energy adoption – into the hands of consumers.”

That ticking sound you hear is nervous solar installers biting their nails and wondering what comes next. But this democratized solarization been a long time coming. Today, consumers can run to the hardware store, buy and install washers, dryers, stoves, refrigerators and many more appliances and gadgets in a matter of hours. So why not solar panels, especially when they can severely downsize customer carbon footprints, rather than expand them? It’s only a matter of time before solarization becomes just another everyday technological activity we engage in without a thought.

Speaking of nervous installers, what has kept this green dream at bay are the exorbitant soft costs of the solar sector, which is why Fraunhofer’s PPPV system, in barely an hour, haircuts the installation price tag from $4 a watt to $1.50 a watt. “At prices that low,” SolarEnergy ‘s Matt Wheeland calculated earlier this year, “everyone wins.”

That includes customers, utilities, manufacturers and installers, like U.S. leader SolarCity, which likely foresaw this industry evolution before buying panel maker Silevo earlier this year. Funded by the Department of Energy’s forward-thinking Sunshot Initiative, Fraunhofer’s PPPV won’t be the first to bring user-friendly solar power to the people. But it’s leading the charge to dramatically simplify the panel installation and grid interconnection process to more quickly solarize Earth, slash emissions and save money. Let’s give thanks.

SolarCity installation

Why More Solar Panels Should Be Facing West, Not South

SolarCity installation
Workers for SolarCity installing solar panels in Camarillo, Calif. A study of 110,000 California houses with rooftop solar systems confirmed that a vast majority of the panels are pointed south, which has its drawbacks. Credit J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

For years, homeowners who bought solar panels were advised to mount them on the roof facing south. That captures the most solar energy over the course of the day, which benefits the homeowner, but does so at hours that are not so helpful for the utility and the grid as a whole.

Mount them to catch the sunlight from the west in the afternoon, and the panels’ production over all would fall, but it would come at hours when the electricity was more valuable.

But that idea is slow to take hold. A new study of 110,000 California houseswith rooftop solar systems confirmed that a vast majority of the panels were pointed south because most of the panel owners were paid by the number of kilowatt-hours the panels produced. Pointing them southward maximizes production over all, but peak production comes at midday, not in late afternoon, when it would be more helpful.


cheaper solar power

Solar-Power System Is Easy to Install, and Therefore Much Cheaper

cheaper solar power
Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute install novel, flexible solar panels with an adhesive backing and quick-connect cables.

Ordinarily, installing and connecting a new array of rooftop solar panels takes days, weeks, or even months because the hardware is complex and various permits are needed. Yesterday, on a frigid day in Charlestown, Massachusetts, researchers completed the process in about an hour.

Homeowners can install the system themselves, by gluing it to a rooftop. The permitting is handled by a combination of electronic sensors and software that communicates with local jurisdictions and utilities.

Installation and permit-related expenses currently account for more than half of the overall cost of a new solar power setup. “By simplifying the system so that it’s like installing an appliance, we envision that the soft cost will be virtually eliminated,” says Christian Hoepfner, director of the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, which developed the system. Doing so would lower the cost of a typical residential solar installation from $22,000 to as little as $7,500, he says.

Vivint Solar bullish despite losses and weaker Q4 install forecast

Vivint is expecting a slight slump in installations in the final quarter of the year, but remains bullish on its long-term prospects.

Vivint Solar, the newly floated US residential PV installer, has forecast a decrease in deployments in the final quarter of the year, blaming the prospect of harsh winter weather conditions.

In a conference call to discuss Q3 results yesterday, Vivint’s CEO Greg Butterfield said he was confident the company would meet or exceed its 150MW full-year deployment guidance.

But in the final quarter of the year, Vivint, the second largest US installer after SolarCity, is expecting to install 45-47MW, down from the 49MW it managed in Q3.

Fourth-quarter revenue is also expected to be down on Q3’s US$8.3 million to between US$5.5 million and US$6.5 million.