Tag Archives: Distributed Solar

Distributed residential solar+storage takes a seat at the adult table

By John Weaver, pv magazine

We should thank Sunrun for continuing to break new ground, and for investing company resources in moving the industry forward. Now the industry has a new precedent that it will build upon; it has a piece of confidence to carry. And residential solar+storage is soon to be a fundamental building block of the Eastern Interconnection – argued to be the largest machine on the planet.

Sunrun has won a bid for 20 MW to participate in ISO New England’s 2022-2023 Forward Capacity Market. The bid means that Sunrun will be required to offer to the broader power grid 20 MW of power, 24 hours day for the single year period. The company will be paid $3.80/kW/month – totaling $76,000/mo, and $912,000 for the full year contract.

Sunrun notes that the capacity will be made possible by its Brightbox energy storage product line. Currently, this product is an LG Chem RESU. LG’s 48-volt battery comes with 3.3, 6.5 and 9.8 kilowatt-hour (kWh) ratings, and its 400-volt batteries offer 7.0 and 9.8 kWh ratings. Both AC- and DC-coupled versions are available. Sunrun noted they would need about 5,000 New England customers to meet the requirement – which would suggest somewhere between.

…This announcement comes of the heels of two very significant recent legislative victories for solar+storage. First, California is allowing DC coupled solar+storage to participate in net metering. And second, Massachusetts just ruled that energy storage that is in the SMART program has the right to sell its own energy into these same forward capacity markets that Sunrun just bid on. Sunrun was part of the negotiations with Massachusetts to push this legislation through.

Read full article from pv magazine

 

Study: California could get 74% of power from rooftop solar

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

Rooftop solar panels could meet three-quarters of California’s electricity needs and about 40 percent of the country’s electricity needs, according to a new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Researchers at the federally funded lab, which is based in Colorado, had estimated in 2008 that rooftop solar could generate 800 terawatt-hours of electricity per year, supplying about 21 percent of the country’s current electricity demand. Now they’ve upped their estimate to 39 percent, in an analysis sure to be embraced by clean-energy advocates who see solar power as critical to fighting climate change.

It’s unlikely the United States will tap all the sunlight at its disposal, at least not soon. The study focuses only on rooftop solar’s theoretical potential, without considering which systems would make financial sense for the owners of homes, businesses and other commercial buildings. Dramatically scaling up rooftop solar would also require big investments in the electric grid, which was built to accommodate large, centralized power plants.

The research lab was particularly bullish on California, which has a lot of sunlight, many large buildings and low per-person energy use. Researchers estimated that California could generate 74 percent of its electricity from rooftop solar — far more than any other state. The next-highest percentages came from the six states of New England, which get relatively little sunlight but don’t use much energy to begin with. Unsurprisingly, large, sunny states such as California, Texas and Florida have the greatest overall generation potential.

Read full article in the Desert Sun

 

California’s Distributed Energy Future

GTM Research has established itself as the premier source of information on solar industry trends and developments in the United States. It’s instructive that from that perspective, they chose to organize a conference focusing on a single state, California.

We who participate in the solar industry here have recognized the state as a leader, but the less patronizing among us also recognize that the magnitude of this lead is only temporary. If solar is to realize its potential as one means of reducing environmental damage while reducing future customer utility costs, then other parts of the United States need to catch up (and as GTM’s latest data for 2015 shows, they are).

Nonetheless, as GTM Research Senior Vice President Shayle Kann observed in his opening keynote at GTM’s California Distributed Energy Future conference in San Francisco, California remains the epicenter of next generation distributed energy (DE) regulation and is at the forefront of the shift toward distributed energy in the U.S. And (I would add) what happens in California doesn’t always stay in California. Hence the conference to examine California’s transition to a distributed energy future and consider what’s working and what isn’t.

The discussions at the conference covered a variety of issues confronting the state. Here is an overview of the key themes coming out of the discussions, and the insights shared by the different speakers:

The strongest and most frequently recurring theme was that of the interaction of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs, essentially distributed solar PV) and the electrical grid. This issue has numerous dimensions, and subsequent “fireside chats” helped highlight some of these.

Appropriately the first discussion was with a Senior Vice President from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), California’s largest investor-owned utility (IOU) and the utility with more connected PV capacity than any other in the United States. Issues were fairly raised: e.g., how should rates be structured to fairly compensate the value of Grid access received by the customer, how does PG&E envision an environment of growing Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) systems and how is the Grid managed for reliability. Unfortunately, the moderator for this session let the PG&E representative off with the stock, PR answers: “we have to make changes in our rate structures”, “they can work, note how long Marin (Clean Energy, 2010) and Sonoma (Clean Power, 2014) have been in service”, and “we need to build in robustness.”

Ah well, at least subsequent chats returned to DER issues in more depth. DERs can lower costs for Grid operators / managers; experiments were cited by both Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) involving combinations of storage and DERs. Time of Use (TOU) pricing is coming, and 150 studies worldwide on this issue indicate that customers like this. But there is just too little experience with California’s residential customers while the customers themselves have too little information on which to make decisions as to costs versus savings.

Questions were also raised about Grid planning, to which respondents appeared to agree that too much is moving to identify a “right” strategy, especially as there isn’t even agreement on how to weigh technical issues such as reliability against other social goals we “should” be pursuing. The underlying complexity raised by these superficially straightforward questions was well-highlighted.

Michael Picker, President of the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) noted that despite all the issues the CPUC addresses, DE issues are of significant importance. CPUC needs to consider even the framework for its decision making processes going forward. A system designed to regulate railroads in the 1890’s may not provide the responsiveness and flexibility for regulating changes to utilities in a rapidly evolving technological, economic and social environment. The “adversarial” approach used in CPUC proceedings may not be the best approach—why is the current process more dependent on legal skills than on engineering skills? The desire is to move forward not too fast, not too slow in opening the market to competition while allowing utilities to remain viable business entities. These are issues that could keep one up at night.

Michael Picker (CPUC, left) and Shayle Kann (GTM, right) during their “Fireside Chat”

GTM California's Distributed Energy Future Conference

The second, albeit lesser, recurring theme I heard at the conference was that of CCA developments. Until this year, there have been only three of these organized in California: Marin (with subsequent geographic extensions) and Sonoma were cited above, and Lancaster Choice Energy was launched in 2015. San Francisco’s Clean Power SF, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Peninsula Clean Energy (San Mateo County) are in the process of launching this year.

As Mark Ferron, CAISO Board of Governors, cited, in 5 years 60% of the state’s eligible population could potentially be served by CCA’s if all programs now in discussion came to completion in that time. He provided a link in later discussion which I repeat here for those who want to follow up on the tally he reported: climateprotection.tumblr.com/tagged/Community-Choice

CCA’s make solar available to those in multi-family dwellings or who own a home not situated with a solar-favorable orientation or location. Expansion of solar power to these customers is required if solar-based power is to expand. Yet as Michael Picker observed, CCA “forced collectivization is a coup against the traditional utility model, challenging utilities and eroding the role of the PUC.” We don’t know yet where this takes existing suppliers and industry participants.

The challenges of the new, evolving energy infrastructure are actively being addressed by the states of California and New York. Conferences such as this provide an excellent opportunity to reflect on the issues and the difficulty this transition poses for firms competing in the market, regulators and the state legislatures who will eventually need to rewrite the rules for structuring state energy markets.

Yikes! Is California’s interest in Solar Energy Collapsing?

GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released their US Solar Market Insight 2015 Year in Review on Wednesday, March 9. We’ve been tracking their PV capacity reports for the past several years, and in the figure below we plot the 2015 capacity increases reported in their Executive Summary.

While there was strong national growth in installation capacity this past year, California’s capacity additions were less than in 2014. After a couple years of providing over half the annual capacity additions in the country (57% last year), California’s share has fallen to a mere 45%.

 Annual PV Installations: California and U.S. Total (2010-2015)

Annual PV Installations: California & U.S. Total (2010-2015)

We picked ourselves up off the floor and asked “What is happening; is this for real?” So we called GTM Research and checked other sources to find out what in the world was going on. Turns out that despite the disastrous looking change, solar growth in California remains alive and well.
Turns out the primary reason for the downturn is a sharp decline in Utility-scale PV projects. According to GTM, these additions fell to the vicinity of 1800 MW last year. [I wish we could afford the $2000 – $6000 for the full report that our SEIA Membership entitles us to so that we could access all the GTM data. But we live in lean times and use information from diverse public sources such as US Energy Information Agency (EIA) and California Energy Commission (CEC) as well as GTM’s summaries to inform our understanding.]

According to EIA information published in late February, it appears that Utility-scale solar PV expanded by 2000 MW in 2014, but only 1100 MW (preliminary) in 2015. Data from diverse sources rarely match-up year-to-year, but the trends are identical—California’s utility-scale PV installations experienced a sharp reduction in 2015.

After checking the CEC’s most recent Tracking Progress, Renewable Energy-Overview, we can see why—the utility industry is ahead of target for meeting the state’s 2016 Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) 25% goal. The industry achieved almost 25% renewables in 2014! The state added approximately 4000 MW of utility scale PV capacity between 2013 and 2015. Utilities are meeting their target early; the apparent slowdown is a temporary pause while utilities work on the installations that will get the state to 33% renewable electricity by 2020.

Distributed generation activity remains strong in California, both in the Residential and Non-Residential segments. The state’s residential customers generated demand for approximately 1000 MW of installations—almost half the national total of 2100 MW. And other distributed generation customers (eg, commercial rooftops) account for about another 300 MW.

So for the first time in years, California’s share of new solar PV installation is now less than half the national total. Good news! The rest of the country is waking up to the benefits of solar energy with capacity increasing in numerous states. The Utility sector is leading this expansion, while the residential sector growth is accelerating. We’re pleased to see this expansion.

The Perils of Wholesale Distributed Generation: Can California Live Up to Its Promise?

By Tam Hunt (Community Renewable Solutions LLC), Greentech Media

There has been a lot of excitement about the promise of wholesale distributed generation in California in recent years. But the state still hasn’t lived up to its promise.

Wholesale distributed generation (DG) refers to front-of-meter systems (typically sized between 1 megawatt and 20 megawatts) that sell power directly to the utility or a third-party offtaker. This is an important market niche that remains underdeveloped. But there are some reasons to be optimistic about the future of wholesale DG in California — if some key policy changes can be made.

I’ve written various columns over the years for GTM highlighting the opportunities, innovations and issues facing distributed generation. Last year, I wrote a very optimistic piece that reflected my excitement over the California Public Utilities Commission’s push for more DG. In particular, I highlighted the new Distribution Resource Plan proceeding and the new interconnection maps that utilities were required to produce as part of their DRPs.

GTM’s Stephen Lacey recently wrote a piece kicking off a series of articles on the utility of the future. In it, he said: “Today, experts across the energy industry are predicting a…shift toward a decentralized, digital and dynamic grid system.” I agree with his appraisal of this trend. But California — long considered the leader on these issues — has yet to address a number of hurdles that stand in the way of realizing that future. In fact, the obstacles now facing solar DG in PG&E’s territory threaten to kill this niche entirely…

Read full op-ed from Greentech Media

 

A Trifecta for Solar Energy and Distributed Generation

We all have good weeks and bad weeks. For proponents of Solar Energy (and all other inhabitants of our planet) this has been an historic week, with major achievements at the International, National and California-state levels. Setbacks will be inevitable, but the events of this week will have memorable and lasting impact.

The first and International achievement was the December 12 Agreement of 188 countries at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris to take measureable actions with the eventual goal of keeping global temperature rise to less than 2ᵒ Celsius (3.6ᵒ Fahrenheit) by 2050 compared with pre-industrial levels. As we have repeatedly been informed, this is the level estimated by numerous scientists to avoid the worst affects of atmospheric warming and ocean rise.

Though yet to be ratified (a process that starts in April 2016), the agreement commits those countries that do ratify the agreement to establish national emission targets and report on progress every 5 years. While the agreement calls for zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century, lowering the target would (according to some scientists) move this goal forward to the 2030 – 2050 timeframe. Either way, implementation of this agreement puts pressure on countries to support low- and non-carbon energy sources, solar very much included, accelerating their deployment and continued improvements.

The second and national achievement has not been enacted as this is written, but is the tentative agreement by Republican and Democratic House party leaders incorporated into the Appropriations bill that would extend tax credits for solar and wind projects from the current end-2016 expiration date through 2021. The agreement was the result of a compromise where-in Democratic Representatives would support eliminating the ban on US oil exports in exchange for Republican support for the Tax Credit extension.

While the vote can still go awry, a senior analyst at GTM Research (who closely follows the Solar market and industry) commented “the extension to the federal ITC is without question a game-changer for U.S. solar’s growth trajectory. Between now and 2020, the U.S. solar market is poised to see a number of new geographies open up with a 30% ITC, within both distributed and utility-scale solar.”

Finally, the third and California state achievement was the December 15 proposed ruling by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to leave in place most of the charges and fees now in place between the state’s major investor-owned utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric) and customers who have installed residential and commercial PV systems. Though yet to be finalized (in January 2016), the proposed ruling leaves in place most of the terms that allow customers with PV systems to recoup their investments in a timely manner thereby increasing the desirability of these systems.

Challenges to PV-favorable net metering terms and (lack of) other fees have been raised in many states, and regulator decisions have been mixed. The proposed CPUC ruling is perhaps the strongest pushback by any state regulator to utility claims of the high costs distributed PV systems impose on other (non-PV owning) rate payers. While new costs are proposed, and some uncertainty is introduced by requiring PV-system owners to be placed on Time-of-Use rates (with unknown impact on their bills), the proposed ruling is seen as leaving the business environment favorable for continued expansion of distributed generation.

For now the sun shines on distributed generation and the growth of solar-sourced clean energy. Let us hope that all three events help realize solar’s potential contribution to our future energy mix for the sake of maintaining our habitable planet.

Not just California: Solar Battles Raging Across U.S.

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

California has more rooftop solar installations than any other state, and it isn’t particularly close. But the Golden State is far from the only place where the solar industry and utility companies are clashing over how much money solar customers should be allowed to save.

Officials in 24 states have recently changed or are debating changes to rate structures for solar customers, according to a report released by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center earlier this month. Many of those battles mirror the one taking place in California, where utilities like Southern California Edison say homes and businesses with solar panels need to pay more.

There’s a reason all these battles are happening now: As rooftop solar prices fall, the industry is growing more quickly than ever. That growth has reduced planet-warming carbon emissions, but it’s also thrown the utility industry into a panic about its long-term ability to make money, clean energy advocates say.

Read full article in the Desert Sun

Building the 21st Century Power System

By Ted Craver (Chairman, President & CEO of Edison International), EnergyBiz Magazine – Fall 2015

Imagine for a moment that you are a homeowner or a small-business owner and you just shelled out $25,000 or more for a shiny new rooftop solar generator. Then imagine your electric utility told you that you could not hook it up to the grid right away, not until your neighborhood circuit was upgraded. And even then, it said you could only turn it on during certain hours. I am guessing you would not be a happy customer.

As CEO of one of the nation’s largest electric power companies, I do not want to be in the business of telling our customers what they can install on their own properties and how they can use it. As utilities, we don’t control what customers put behind the meter. We don’t tell them what TVs and appliances they can buy. The same should apply to PV solar panels, home batteries and electric cars.

Our job as utilities is to provide the power network that enables customers to choose which energy technologies they want to use. At Edison International and Southern California Edison, we like to call it a “plug-and-play” network, meaning that customers should be able to plug in any device and have it work seamlessly with our power system. Building that network to provide customer choice broadly across our system requires us to modernize the power grid so it can accommodate these new technologies… That is why we are building a more flexible, resilient and low-carbon electricity distribution grid for the 21st century and beyond. Modernizing the grid will not only preserve reliability in the face of increasingly complex distributed energy resources, it will also allow us to utilize these resources to provide grid services.

Read full article from EnergyBiz

California Decision Means Rooftop Solar Owners Have Choices

By Amanda H. Miller, CleanEnergyAuthority.com

A new California regulation that allows companies to package energy from small producers and sell it on the wholesale market is good news for the long-term viability of rooftop solar.

As utilities push back against paying the full retail rate for the power solar customers feed onto the grid, some expect the popularity of rooftop solar to wane. News outlets this week have noted that the meteoric rise of rooftop solar could slow when the 30 percent national investment tax credit declines in 2016 and as utilities reduce net metering payments.

But the cost of solar panels has continued to decline and business innovators have continued to come up with creative new ways to make solar affordable. So, just as utility companies prepare to reduce net metering benefits, private industry swoops in with a viable solution that could keep the rooftop solar industry growing 50 percent a year in California.

Read full article from CleanEnergyAuthority.com

The Solar Industry Stands Divided Over California’s 50% Renewable Energy Target

By Julia Pyper, Greentech Media

These days, it’s rare to see rooftop solar installers and investor-owned utilities aligned on state policy issues. But in California, the two industry groups are both lobbying for behind-the-meter solar to count toward the state’s expanded renewable portfolio standard.

SB 350, the “Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015,” seeks to increase the state’s renewable energy target from 33 percent by 2020, to 50 percent by 2030. It also calls for cutting petroleum use in the transportation sector by half, and doubling the energy efficiency of buildings over the next 15 years. The bill has already passed the California Senate, and is now making its way through the Assembly.

One of the issues both utilities and solar installers have raised is that distributed solar should not be treated any differently than utility-scale solar as the state crafts the rules around meeting the new 50 percent target. As the RPS stands today, California utilities are only required to buy energy and renewable energy credits (RECs) from utility-scale solar plants. California is the only state in the country that does not count distributed solar toward the state’s RPS goal, either through a distributed generation carve-out or by generating RECs.

In letters to the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce, Southern California Edison and PG&E argue that “state policy should not pick technology winners and losers, favoring only utility-scale renewables,” and call on the legislature to “expand the scope of eligible renewable resources to include distributed generation facilities such as rooftop solar that the state already acknowledges are renewable, yet do not count toward the RPS goal.” This change would give utilities more ways to meet the lofty 50 percent RPS goal. It would also give them a potentially more affordable way to meet the goal by leveraging existing and future private investment toward meeting the RPS, rather than necessarily having to contract for new large-scale projects using ratepayer dollars.

The issue has made strange bedfellows of power companies and rooftop solar installers, which have clashed in several states over the future of net energy metering. Meanwhile, it has pitted rooftop solar companies against large-scale solar installers, which are actively lobbying against the RPS change.

Read full article from Greentech Media

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