Tag Archives: Community Shared Solar

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.

U.S. solar industry battles ‘white privilege’ image problem

By Nichola Groom, Reuters

Solar power companies have an image problem—and they are beginning to do something about it.

Despite a sharp drop in the price of solar panels and innovative financing plans that have brought the technology to many middle income households over the past decade, it is still seen as a luxury only rich, mostly white, consumers can afford. That perception both hampers solar expansion in less affluent communities and drives political opposition to initiatives promoting greater use of solar power as a renewable alternative to gas, oil and coal.

Though it has grown dramatically in recent years, solar power still makes up less than 1 percent of U.S. energy supplies and relies heavily on government incentives to compete with traditional energy sources. Those incentives help companies such as SolarCity, Sunrun and others market solar power contracts that offer customers 20 percent savings on their energy bills. However, the schemes come with certain credit requirements and are ill-suited for apartment dwellers, homes with low monthly bills or low-income households that qualify for reduced power rates.

Since minorities make up a disproportionate number of low-income households, some advocacy groups have opposed certain solar power initiatives arguing that they deepen social and racial inequality. Solar companies are now trying to tackle both the perceptions and the economics by pushing to diversify their workforce, forging alliances with minority groups, and making solar power more suitable for multi-family housing.

The stakes are particularly high in California, by far the top U.S. solar market where solar power is expected to make up more than 10 percent of the state’s power generation in 2015, according to IHS. Communities with median household incomes below $40,000 account for just 5 percent of installations in the state even though a third of California households fall into that category. That share has not changed over the past seven years even as solar installations in communities in the $55,000-$70,000 income bracket have risen to more than half of the total market.

Read full article from Reuters

State Policy, Utilities Ignite Community Solar Growth

By Rebecca Kern, Bloomberg BNA News

The community solar market is heating up thanks to favorable state legislation and interest from utilities in installing solar panels that provide cost-sharing among consumers who don’t have access to rooftop solar. With nearly 50 percent of the households and businesses unable to host rooftop solar systems, community solar is a largely untapped market for consumers looking to invest in solar, which is becoming cheaper than retail electricity in parts of the country.

Developers, analysts and utilities predict that the pace of community solar will continue to grow in the future as prices of solar decline and more utilities get involved. Solar developers and utility companies are driving a lot of the growth in the community solar market, leading to a projected 59 percent annual growth rate over the next five years. Legislation in a handful of states encouraging the development of community solar systems has also driven a lot of the growth in community solar over the past several years.

Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, Colorado, and New York are the states that “have set forth mandates in a very cookie-cutter program design to attract a lot of companies that are looking to scale up their community solar presence quickly,” Cory Honeyman, a senior analyst at GTM Research, said. Much of the near-term growth in community solar is concentrated in those four or five state markets “that have the right design in place for scale,” and 90 percent of the installations expected in 2015 and 2016 will take place in states with community solar legislation in effect.

Community solar is currently economically viable in parts of the country where electricity rates are high and has the potential to become more competitive in the future, analysts and developers say. The savings that community solar subscribers receive depend on the cost of electricity in the region and the solar resources in the state, and the electricity rates depend on the competitiveness of the electricity market, Glen Andersen, energy program manager at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said. “They have high electricity rates in California, for example, so it does make [community solar] more competitive. But if you were in a state like Kentucky, where electricity rates are really low, whether or not you’re going to see savings over just buying it from the utility is more questionable,” Andersen said.

Read full article from Bloomberg BNA

Related article: Note to Utilities: Here’s Why 2015 is the ‘Tipping Point’ for Community Solar (Aug 11)

 

Will solar energy shine on poor communities?

By Morgan Lee, The San Diego Union-Tribune

A billion-dollar effort to bring more rooftop solar to multi-family housing projects in poor communities is among a raft of clean-energy remedies approved late last week by California lawmakers, and now awaiting the governor’s signature.

Tucked into several approved bills are provisions designed to address the relatively slow spread of rooftop solar within low-income communities and at multi-family housing complexes. For those solar projects, financial arrangements and risks are typically more complex than the single-family homeowner market, and the payoff from solar energy has not always trickled down to the electricity bills for individual tenants.

Assembly Bill 693 would devote up to $100 million a year to expanding rooftop solar at deed-restricted affordable housing complexes. Those dwellings are reserved for people living on less than 60 percent of the local area median income. Exact details of the AB 693 program still need to be written by the California Public Utilities Commission, and might not move forward until 2017. The new solar program eventually could reach an estimated 200,000 low-income households if successful, offsetting individual utility bills in the process by 30 percent to 50 percent.

Read full article in the San Diego Union-Tribune

Power companies may have found a new way to crack into the booming solar business

By Chris Mooney, The Washington Post

There’s a tense dynamic accompanying the rapid growth of solar in the United States—in which traditional utility companies, nervous about the spread of rooftop solar panels, are seeking ways to limit the compensation earned by solar customers for the extra electricity they provide to the grid—a system known as net metering.  This battle over net metering has been often depicted as a zero sum conflict between an upstart and an incumbent, but new research out of the University of Texas at Austin suggests there could be a kind of “middle ground” in the conflict between some utilities and solar installers.

The potential “win-win,” as the researchers put it, involves community solar—solar energy projects or panels that are in effect shared by a group of people. Their research suggests that community shared solar has the potential for “stabilizing the customer-utility relationship with deeper solar penetration.”

The new study, recently published in Energy Research & Social Science, found that at least some utility companies seem to like community solar programs, are already offering them, and plan to expand them. One key reason? Customers clearly want access to solar, and some utility industry representatives find community solar to be a great way to give it to them—in a manner that allows the utility to continue to service these customers’ full electricity demand, that is.  The research also suggests that community solar is yet another way—beyond getting directly into the business of installing rooftop solar—that traditional power companies seem to be finding their way into the hot residential solar market.

The state of California has even mandated that its three main utilities — Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric — begin to offer community solar programs, and on a large scale. The utilities are slated to set up 600 megawatts of community solar capacity by 2019.

Read full article in the Washington Post

Note to utilities: Here’s why 2015 is the ‘tipping point’ for community solar

By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive

With many utilities addressing the challenge of rooftop solar, community shared solar is fast emerging as an appetizing solar business model. A top solar research firm now says 2015 is the year that the community solar market breaks through.

A new market report forecasts community shared solar developers will grow 2014’s 65.9 MW of cumulative installed capacity to 465 MW by the end of 2016. A 59% annual growth rate for the sector over the next five years will take the 21 MW installed during 2014 to 534 MW installed during 2020, it predicts. “2015 is the tipping point year when community solar becomes a relevant sector in the broader U.S. solar opportunity,” said GTM Research Sr. Analyst Cory Honeyman, co-author of U.S. Community Solar Market Outlook 2015-2020.

Two key factors will drive the transition. First, the key states of Colorado, Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, and New York now have the kind of governing laws in place that give developers, utilities, and customers the confidence to buy in. Some 90% of installations in 2015 and 2016 will come from states with community solar legislation in place, the report forecasts, and 82% of that will come from the top four markets of Colorado, Minnesota, California, and Massachusetts. Second, community shared solar developers Clean Energy Collective (CEC) and SunShare have proven there are workable answers to questions about the business model. That is now bringing big, deeper-pocketed national players to the marketplace.

Read full article from Utility Dive