Tag Archives: Pv 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.

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.

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.

Rooftop Solar Brings Higher Home Appraisals

By Katherine Tweed, Greentech Media

Homes with rooftop solar are appraised at a higher value, according to new research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

For the past few years, Berkeley Lab has been collecting data on the value of homes with solar photovoltaics compared to those without PV. Early studies relied on modeling and found that buyers were willing to pay an average of $15,000 more for a home with a solar PV array. Another study from January, based on survey data, found that homebuyers were also willing to pay a premium for leased systems.

The latest piece of research furthers those findings by assessing appraisals for PV homes in six markets within Oregon, California, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania and Maryland. The appraisal premium ranged from about 3 percent to 6 percent based on the region, with a price boost of about $10,000 to $22,000. The valuations were based upon PV homes compared against comparable non-PV homes by local appraisers.

Read full article from Greentech Media

Solar Power’s Pathway to Energy Supremacy

By Philip Wolfe, Renewable Energy World

In my previous article, I showed that there are no technological, resource or land area constraints that would prevent solar power from delivering any proportion of the world’s electricity needs, up to and including 100 percent. My follow up article illustrated how its viability is a function of the solar resource, declining capital costs, and their relation to traditional electricity prices. It showed why solar is already the low-cost option in places like Chile, and projected that this so-called ‘grid parity’ will progressively extended to other parts of the world. How fast that happens will depend in part on logistics, but primarily on regulatory issues; so this final article addresses in particular the politics of rolling out utility scale solar generation.

Before developing the key proposition further, let me briefly note how fast the sector is progressing. When the first article was published in April (2015) it showed that installed utility scale solar capacity was equivalent to 0.3 percent of global electricity usage. That figure has climbed to 0.33 percent. More countries are now active in utility-scale solar, with nearly 30 countries boasting a capacity of 100 MW or more.

Read full article from Renewable Energy World

Are Solar Power Towers Doomed in California?

By Chris Clarke, Rewire

It used to be the future of solar. From the time the 10-megawatt Solar One project rose east of Barstow in 1981, renewable energy advocates imagined that California’s solar future would look a lot like Solar One, a tower with a bright white boiler on top, illuminated by sunlight reflected from more than 1,700 large mirrors arranged in concentric circles around the tower’s base.

Now, California generates more solar electricity than at any point in its history. With a new mandate that the state get half its electrical power from renewables by the end of 2030, solar’s role in California is only going to get bigger. And yet solar power tower technology seems to be languishing. Of 11,535 megawatts of solar generating capacity installed in the state by the end of last year, solar power towers account for just 397 megawatts: about three percent of the state’s solar.

Things have turned so sour for solar power tower technology that in August, the company behind the only power tower project being proposed for the state of California announced it wants to build the plant using a different technology. That means there are no new solar tower plants on the drawing board for California. How did this once-popular technology fall on such hard times? Solar generating capacity using other technologies has been burgeoning in California, with more than 4,300 megawatts worth of both photovoltaic and parabolic trough technology installed in the state in 2014 alone: more than 10 times the total amount of solar power tower capacity in California.

Read full article from Rewire

Beyond batteries: The diverse technologies vying for the bulk storage market

By Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive

All the talk in the electric utility industry these days seems to be about battery storage, but there are other ways to save generated electricity for later.

With more demanding state renewable portfolio standards, the finalization of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and utilities increasingly turning to renewables as a least-cost option, grid operators are likely to need more and bigger storage options by the mid-2020s, if not before.

“The excitement in the market now is around the policies we have in place, which very specifically exclude big pumped hydro applications,” explained California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA) Sr. Advisor Mark Higgins, the VP/COO at Strategen Consulting. “Those policies were designed to create a diversity of technologies. Bulk storage would work against that.”

But, Higgins said, by around 2024, when California gets to about 40% renewables, there will be a real need to shift excess renewable energy supplies from the middle of the day to the late afternoon and evening. “That will require storage resources that can handle big amounts of energy over long periods of time.” Higgins expects California regulators to again take the lead, as they did with the AB 2514 policy now driving battery technology growth, and put in place incentives for long duration storage technologies. Following is an overview of some of the diverse technologies vying for the bulk storage market…

Read full article from Utility Dive

California Achieves New Utility-Scale Solar Energy Generation Peak Of 6.391 GW

By James Ayre, CleanTechnica

The state of California has achieved a new electricity generation peak record for utility-scale solar energy, according to recent reports. The new record of 6.391 gigawatts (alternating current, not direct current) was achieved on August 20, 2015, according to California’s grid operator. This figure refers to both utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) projects and concentrating solar power (CSP) projects.

While the 6.391 GW figure includes both utility-scale solar PV and CSP projects, it doesn’t include the output of distributed solar energy system output (so-called “behind-the-meter” electricity generation). GTM Research has previously estimated a figure of 3.2 GW of total distributed solar system capacity in California for Quarter 1, 2015 — so, assuming that’s correct, and that peak generation sometimes approaches peak capacity for distributed, then the total peak figure could actually be as much as 50% higher.

Read full article from CleanTechnica

Southern California Edison To Buy Solar Energy From Borrego PV Projects

Southern California Edison (SCE) has signed power purchase agreements (PPA) with Borrego Solar Systems for the electricity generated from rooftop wholesale distributed generation (WDG) projects.

Under the five 20-year PPAs, SCE will purchase 10MW solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity from the WDG projects which Borrego Solar plans to build. The systems will be located on industrial warehouse buildings in Southern California.

These projects are part of SCE’s fourth solicitation under the Solar Photovoltaic Program (SPVP) for Independent Power Producers, a five-year program to procure 125 MW of primarily rooftop PV projects. These new PPAs will bring Borrego Solar’s total participation in the program to nine projects totaling 17 MW. Once fully operational, the Borrego Solar portfolio will generate enough energy to power approximately 3,672 homes.

Read full article from Energy Business Review

California’s Distributed Energy Grid Plans: The Next Steps

By Jeff St. John, Greentech Media

Last week, after a year of behind-the-scenes work and much public debate, California’s big three investor-owned utilities turned in their long-awaited distribution resource plans (DRPs). These DRPs are essentially blueprints for how Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric are going to merge rooftop solar, behind-the-meter energy storage, plug-in electric vehicles and other distributed energy resources (DERs) into their day-to-day grid operations and long-range distribution grid planning and investment regimes.

Each California utility has created mapping tools that show how much capacity is available on each distribution circuit for new DER interconnection, for instance — something that could be very useful for distributed energy developers. All three utilities have also agreed on a common set of measures for how DERs could help shore up grid capacity, increase reliability, serve system-wide needs, and otherwise stand in for costly utility upgrades. And each has laid out how it plans to fold these DRP methodologies into their general rate cases (GRCs), the once-every-three-years process that determines how much each can charge its customers for its capital and operating costs for the coming years.

Many questions remain about how to determine which combination of DERs will meet the least-cost models that utilities use to rank their distribution grid upgrades, and what kinds of new capabilities grid-supporting DERs will need to have to serve as replacements for utility investments. There’s also much uncertainty about how DERs serving as stand-ins for grid infrastructure should be paid for, and how their costs and benefits should be shared. These issues are of major interest for solar-storage combinations from SolarCity and Tesla, SunEdison and Green Charge Networks, Sungevity and Sonnenbatterie, and SunPower and partners Stem and Sunverge, which see an opportunity for earning grid services revenues as stand-ins for distribution grid investments. They’re also important for the commercial building and residential energy management platform providers looking for ways to tap California’s emerging opportunities for distributed demand response.

These costs and values wouldn’t just flow from utilities and their customers to DER providers—each utility’s DRP asks the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for permission to spend lots of money on beefing up their own systems to enable their visions. Southern California Edison alone is estimating its DRP-related capital expenditures could add up to $347 million to $560 million over the next three years, for example, and PG&E and SDG&E will also be seeking new funding, though they haven’t yet specified how much.

All three DRPs add up to nearly 1,000 pages, which makes it hard to summarize all the next steps they contain, but here are a few highlights of the challenges to come.

Read full article from Greentech Media

Related articles: How California’s biggest utilities plan to integrate distributed resources (Utility Dive)