Tag Archives: Distributed Generation

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.

Inside the nation’s first renewables-plus-storage microgrid

By Robert Walton, Utility Dive

Borrego Springs, California, sits less than 100 miles from San Diego, but in terms of electric reliability the two places were once worlds apart. San Diego Gas & Electric serves 3.4 million consumers with 1.4 million electric meters in its territory. And last year – for the ninth consecutive year – it was named the most reliable Western utility by PA Consulting Group.  But if you lived in Borrego Springs, an isolated desert community surrounded by a state park, your utility experience was markedly different.

“That area has seen outages over the years, some lasting days on end,” according to Jim Avery, SDG&E’s chief development officer. “Borrego Springs is served by one radial transmission line traversing 60 miles of exposure. It is susceptible to wildfires, windstorms, flooding and hail.” After wildfires knocked out power to the area in 2007 for two days, the utility took a hard look at how to better supply residents and businesses. About 2,800 people live in the community, which is entirely surrounded by Anza-Borrego State Park, the largest park in California.

“As a result of the wildfires, we decided we were going to rethink the way we served communities such as Borrego Springs,” Avery said. “We started our quest for designing a fully-integrated microgrid, one that could integrate conventional sources of generation, renewable sources, such as rooftop solar, as well as substation and utility-scale solar.” The system also includes distributed energy storage and batteries located at substations. With the help of $8 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, “we’ve gone through an evolution in the last seven years towards building that ultimate microgrid,” Avery said. “And we’ve had some opportunities to test it under different conditions.”

The grid was used to avoid some smaller outages, and then earlier this year the California Energy Commission awarded the utility a $5 million grant to expand, allowing it to interconnect with the nearby 26-MW Borrego Springs solar facility.

In late spring, major flooding did damage to SDG&E’s transmission corridor – potentially leaving customers in the dark again. Historically, that would have meant a 10-hour outage as the utility rebuilt the poles. “We would have had customers out of service for almost an entire day,” Avery said. “But because the microgrid was up and running we were able to switch over all of our customers to be fed by the rooftop solar systems scattered out in the community, in addition the large-scale solar, and it was all balanced by the batteries located on the distribution line and at our substations.” Borrego Springs’ peak load is about 14 MW, and rooftop plus utility-scale solar give the community about 30 MW of generation. The batteries can store about 1.5 MW.

Borrego Springs isn’t the only microgrid out there, of course. It’s not even the only one operated by SDG&E, which has a few other grids in place for voltage regulation. But, according to Avery, it is the first of its kind to power an entire community with renewable energy.

Read full article from Utility Dive

US Solar Electricity Production 50% Higher Than Previously Thought

By Jason Kaminsky (kWh Analytics) & Justin Baca (Solar Energy Industry Association), Greentech Media

Renewable energy’s share of our overall energy mix is at the highest level in over 70 years — even with the drought-induced decline in Western hydropower output.

In California, increasing solar power generation made up for the shortfall in hydropower production. In fact, solar production was up so much that California became the first state to get more that 5 percent of its electricity from utility solar. This dramatic growth in solar generation has driven the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) to make a regular habit of reporting record solar outputs as more and more plants come on-line. But while solar electricity produced on the utility side (wholesale) of the meter is easily counted by these agencies, they don’t count distributed generation — the smaller systems located on rooftops — which represents a huge portion of solar generation.

In an effort to provide a more complete estimate of solar generation in the U.S., SEIA and kWh Analytics completed an analysis of U.S. solar production, including previously uncounted generation from behind-the-meter systems. The results were astonishing: we estimate that actual solar production is 50 percent higher than the previous best estimates of solar production. In the 12 months ending in March, solar energy systems in the U.S. generated 30.4 MWh of electricity. The Energy Information Administration’s utility-only estimate for the same period is 20.2 million MWh.

Read full article from Greentech Media

How California is Integrating Renewable Energy Without Blowing a Fuse

By Peter Mead, Government Technology

In California, mandated increases in sustainable energy generation are driving unprecedented technology innovations in energy balancing, rate reductions and new opportunities.

Beginning in 2002, the California Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) made a significant change in the function of energy production, transmission, distribution and consumption when it mandated that investor-owned utilities, electric service providers and community choice aggregators must increase procurement from eligible renewable energy resources to 33 percent of total procurement by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030.

Having to integrate renewables such as solar and wind, with their inherent variability, into a system that hasn’t changed much since the Edison days has become a crucible for load balancing innovation, distribution efficiency and market design. And the form that “ever follows” is already beginning to shape a future of expanded opportunity in the energy market as it drives diversification, flexibility, profits and lower consumer prices.

Read full article from Government Technology

SDG&E microgrid uses solar, storage to avoid outage in small town

By Robert Walton, Utility Dive

SDG&E has pulled off what it believes is the nation’s first example of a renewables-fueled microgrid being used to provide power for an entire town in a real-world scenario.

The utility used the Borrego Springs Microgrid on May 21st after the transmission line that usually feeds the community was damaged by lightning. SDG&E said its crews needed to replace or repair three transmission poles, which would usually require a 10-hour sustained outage.

Just before 9 a.m. on May 21, the utility “seamlessly” switched the Borrego Springs community over to microgrid power, and then switched it back nine hours later when maintenance was complete. The microgrid was predominantly fueled by the nearby 26 MW Borrego Solar facility (owned by NRG Energy), and the utility used distributed generation to “follow the load” and fill in power fluctuations from the solar facility. As of the completion of the demonstration project, the Borrego Springs microgrid consisted of two 1.8 MW diesel generators, a 1500 kWh (500 kW) battery at the substation, three smaller 50 kWh batteries, six 8 kWh home batteries, and 700 kW of solar, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

SDG&E said that using solar generation to power Borrego Springs was one of the primary goals of a $5 million California Energy Commission grant, making it one of the nation’s largest microgrids that can operate solely on renewable energy.

Read full article from Utility Dive

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Forget Desert Solar Farms: We Can Get More Than Enough Solar Energy From Cities

By Adele Peters, Fast Co.Exist

Solar plants keep getting bigger: The new Topaz Solar Farm, in a remote part of southern California, sprawls over an area about a third of the size of Manhattan. In February, another solar farm of roughly the same size—with 9 million solar panels—opened in the Mojave Desert. Later this year, an even larger project will open in Antelope Valley.

Together, the three new projects will provide enough power for over half a million homes. But there’s a downside: They’re all in former open spaces that once provided habitat for wildlife, and because they’re in remote areas, some of the energy they produce gets lost along the way to consumers.

A new study in Nature Climate Change says that plants like these actually aren’t necessary: We can get more than enough solar power by building in cities instead. The study looks at California, because the state is aggressively increasing renewable energy, and finds that by using land that’s already developed, like rooftops and parking lots, solar power could provide the state with three to five times as much energy as it uses.

The study maps out developed areas that are best suited for either photovoltaic panels or concentrated solar power (CSP); California has an area about the size of Massachusetts that is well-suited for PV panels, and an area about the size of Delaware that is a good match for CSP. If these spaces were fully plastered with solar tech, they could provide over 20,000 terawatt-hours of power every year.

Read full article from Fast Company