Dominion’s Solar Partnership Program Adds Another Participant

As part of their ongoing Solar Partnership Program, Dominion Virginia Power is currently constructing the latest in their statewide portfolio of solar power projects at an open field adjacent to the Merck manufacturing plant in Elkton, VA.

Dominion is installing about 6,800 PV modules at the project site for a total of 2.2 MWDC of nameplate capacity. The modules are supported by ground-mounted steel racks. Power collected by the modules is converted to AC power via inverters distributed throughout the array and fed directly into Dominion’s grid infrastructure.

elktonRecent aerial photo taken of Dominion’s Merck Solar Facility under construction (Courtesy of Dominion Virginia Power)

The project marks the eighth project to be constructed in the Dominion program since it began primary development activities in 2013. The map below shows a portion of Dominion’s renewable energy project sites including those of the SPP in the state of Virginia. ANTARES has assisted Dominion with each of these SPP solar projects from initial site studies to construction oversight and operating guidance, as well as provided additional support in vetting the feasibility of potential projects along the way.

dvp-projects

Courtesy of Dominion Virginia Power

ANTARES Report Published on Colorado Energy Office Website

The Colorado Energy Office (CEO) released a report entitled, “Colorado Customer-Sited Energy Study.” The published report is a summary of a more detailed study completed by ANTARES late in 2015. Colorado Customer-Sited Energy Study_0_001The press release for the announcement can be found here. The purpose of the study was,

…to conduct a study to determine the size and characteristics of the market for customer-sited energy systems in Colorado. The study primarily targeted energy technologies that are eligible under Colorado’s renewable energy standard (RES), including solar photovoltaics (PV), small wind turbines, small and micro-hydropower, waste heat recovery, solar thermal heating, ground source heat pumps (GSHP), and energy storage.

As part of the effort, ANTARES constructed a large database and used advanced data analytics to validate data collected from a variety of sources. Data analysis included the use of geolocational data to validate address information and energy system data.

The importance of this work is that the baseline data will be useful in cataloging and characterizing the long-term performance of small-scale renewable energy systems across the Colorado. In the future, ANTARES believes that the data collection and analytical methods developed are broadly applicable to jurisdictions across the United States. ANTARES is engaging state energy offices across the country to complete similar assessments. Look for more reports to come in the near future.

Worldwide Energy Consumption Shifts Toward Renewable Energy

This month Germany made leaps and bounds in becoming a nation predominantly powered by renewable energy sources. In the past year 33%, on average, of Germany’s total energy came from renewable resources; this portion skyrocketed on May 8 for on this day Germany had high wind speeds nationwide, causing roughly 87% of the country’s electricity to be produced by renewables, including wind, solar, hydropower, and biomass plants. During this time, the country found that the net prices for electricity became negative, meaning that some customers were being paid to use electricity. As importantly, much of the advancement in the German renewable energy industry is being driven by investments German citizens are making themselves [1].

WindSunset

Photo by Tim Clark

 

Those critiquing renewable energy believed that a future energy industry completely supported by renewable sources was impractical because of variations in availability (such as changes in wind speeds). While this is true for almost every renewable resource, Germany, the international leader in the switch to renewable energy, is implementing a diverse infrastructure for renewable energy, including on and offshore wind, solar power, hydropower, and biomass plants [1].

Germany’s drastic switch to the renewable energy sector can be explained by the country’s expected 40 percent decrease from 1990 carbon emission levels by 2020 with a projected 80 percent decrease by 2050. Chancellor Angela Merkel states that the country will make this happen primarily by expanding their solar, wind, and hydropower energy sectors while simultaneously shutting down their nuclear reactors due to safety concerns [2]. Although the country still relies heavily on fossil-fuels, the decline of nuclear power, combined with the country’s desire to increase the number of wind and solar farms, has greatly accelerated the growth of the renewable energy sector; consequently, electricity prices for renewable energy is being driven downward and high penetration renewable energy scenarios are now more real than ever [3].

Portugal is also setting a worldwide example for the potential of the renewable energy industry. Within the past five years Portugal strode to increase the portion of energy produced from renewable sources following the announcement of the European Union’s renewable targets for 2020; between 2013 and 2015, the portion of the nation’s energy generated by renewables rose from 23% to 48% with almost half of the total renewable energy sourcing from wind power. Recently Portugal made landmark records by running for 107 hours on energy produced solely from renewable sources, including wind, solar and hydropower [4]. This is a major milestone for the renewable industry as it points to a reality that many felt was unlikely; renewable energy sources can be a major part of our energy future. As a result of its achievement, Portugal has received endless positive feedback following the event, and now sees great potential in becoming a nation powered solely from renewables.

Industry groups are also suggesting, that projects like those in Portugal will lead to green energy exports throughout the EU, permitting wind to produce 25% of Europe’s power needs within the next fifteen years [4]. In the past year Denmark became a leader in the renewable energy industry after results illustrated wind power’s potential to produce 140% of their national electricity needs; as a result, Denmark began exporting electricity to Sweden, Norway and Germany [5]. Europe continues to make advancements in the renewable energy sector in hope of reaching the EU’s goals.

Germany, Portugal, Denmark, and many other European countries project drastic changes in their electricity supply as they shift toward renewables. This move toward renewables results in a larger domestic energy supply with the accompanied greater potential to become an electricity exporter. Recent events in Germany and Portugal prove clean electricity sources to be feasible, environmentally beneficial options for large-scale electricity production; as a result, renewable energy can soon expect increased growth in European economies and hopefully in the near future for the United States.

[1] http://qz.com/680661/germany-had-so-much-renewable-energy-on-sunday-that-it-had-to-pay-people-to-use-electricity/

[2] http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/11/climate-change/germany-renewable-energy-revolution-text

[3] http://cleantechnica.com/2015/12/08/renewable-energy-can-take-over-is-much-cheaper-than-nuclear-or-fossil-fuels/

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/18/portugal-runs-for-four-days-straight-on-renewable-energy-alone

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/10/denmark-wind-windfarm-power-exceed-electricity-demand

The Zombie PTC rises again, and the ITC lives to tell the tale

In keeping with what seems to have become a semi-annual tradition, the Section 45 Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) was resurrected at the end of 2015. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 passed in early December retroactively renewed the PTC through the end of 2014. For eligible wind energy facilities, the credit was extended through the end of 2019, and will be reduced by 20% in 2017, by 40% in 2018, and by 60% in 2019. For other eligible technologies, the credit will once again expire at the end of 2016.

Source: AP PHOTO/JOHN LOCHER

Source: AP PHOTO/JOHN LOCHER

The same legislation saved the Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC), and the solar energy industry, from certain doom. Previously, the ITC for solar energy was set to reduce to 10% after December 31, 2016. The credit is now extended through the end of 2019 at the 30% level, and will step down to 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, and 10% in 2022 and future years. Geothermal heat pumps continue to be eligible for a 10% ITC through the end of 2016, and geothermal electric systems are eligible for a 10% ITC through 2022 and future years. Utility-scale wind projects continue to be eligible to claim the ITC in lieu of the PTC as long as the PTC is in effect.

Now that the solar energy industry is no longer peering anxiously into the abyss of a world without the ITC, we can start thinking about the type of ancillary effects this extension might have. One possible impact is to accelerate the end of net metering such as we’re seeing in Nevada right now, care of NV Energy and the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. The idea is that as solar costs continue to drop and project economics remain buoyed by the ITC, the case is stronger for utilities to claim losses and expenses as a result of increasing solar adoption. The form that’s taken so far is an overhaul to net metering policies.

Solar energy systems produce at their max typically in the middle of the day when the sun is most directly incident on the modules. But typical residential consumers, who by-and-large aren’t home in the middle of the day, have relatively small home loads at these times. When systems produce excess power because of low load demand, that power is delivered back to the grid and the meter is ‘credited’ for the delivered energy during the day. Those credits are used at night when loads are typically higher in the house and the PV system is not generating. Historically, net metering rules have given a 1:1 credit for excess generation meaning every excess kWh generated is a kWh credited. Currently, this mechanism of shifting energy generation from daytime to nighttime using credits is what helps incentivize and fuel solar growth at the consumer level.

The Nevada PUC ruling in late December 2015 unanimously approved a new tariff structure for solar customers (and later modified its ruling in February 2016). The new tariff institutes a new, higher fixed monthly charge (i.e. independent of energy use) for net metering customers and implements a tiered de-escalation of the ‘credit’ these customers receive for their excess generation. The NV Energy excess energy credit, as of January 1, starts at roughly 83 – 94% of the retail energy value and ramps down every 3 years over the course of 12 years until it reaches the wholesale rate of energy[1]. That’s just over 2.5 cents per kWh of excess generation. What this amounts to is that solar energy producers will not be credited for excess generation during the day in the way they’ve historically been used to, making pay-back periods much longer and threatening economic viability of many projects altogether.

The PUC hearings for these rulings received enormous press and included testimony from stakeholders across the energy industry such as high profile energy developer Elon Musk, SolarCity board chairman. Solar City currently holds Nevada’s largest market share for residential solar. One of the more contentious details following the rulings was the rejection of a “grandfathering” rule which sought to make current solar producers already under the old net metering tariffs, and who invested in their systems under the impression that net metering rules would not dramatically change, exempt from the new tariff changes. As a result, many PV system owners may not even recoup their investment.  This kind of government bait and switch is very harmful to consumer trust and industry sustainability, and further, strains the ability to add new industry-related legislation down the road for fear about its impermanence. We’ll dive deeper into this topic in a separate blog post later this year.

But the Nevada PUC isn’t the first commission to file such rulings. Late last year the Hawaii PUC similarly voted to end net metering for Hawaii Electric Company’s (HECO) solar generating customers. The related issues behind this vote were decidedly a bit more complex than in Nevada due to the uniquely high solar penetration Hawaii is experiencing (as of October 2015, roughly 16% of HECO Companies customers were generating power with grid-connected solar the capacity of which amounted to about 35% penetration on the system peaks[2]. The tariff change in Hawaii also differs from Nevada in the sense that the new rate for selling back excess power, while roughly half of the retail rate, is still 15 – 28 cents per kWh[3] (due to the high wholesale energy rates in Hawaii) and likely still valuable enough to justify many PV projects. But the new rates are only applicable for the next two years making investment in solar a very difficult decision considering the 20 – 30 year life cycle of projects.

While the examples of Nevada and Hawaii are strikingly different from each other, they represent a potential sea change that could be seen in many other states as utilities continue the push to recapture revenues lost to solar generation and grid planning costs associated with preparing for higher circuit penetration rates on their lines. So far in solar’s journey, net metering has been the secret sauce for many sectors that makes the generation profile of solar make economic sense.

Without net metering, and considering the gradual plateauing trend of installation cost reductions, many are speculating that demand response and storage mechanisms, such as generation-coupled batteries, will be the future of helping to monetize the energy value of customer-sited distributed solar and maintain favorable economics and incentive for consumers to go solar. Customer-sited demand response technology is at a very young stage in its development and deployment and the costs reflect this, but looking at the trend of solar cost reductions in the last 10 years it’s easy to imagine a similar industry boom and increase of accessibility for this newer technology. With the looming threat to net metering and the enormous potential of distributed storage, we believe the next 12 months will be very telling in exactly what the future of customer-sited solar will look like for the next 10 – 20 years and beyond.

(Thanks to Heidi Alsbrooks for collaborating on this post.)

[1] http://pucweb1.state.nv.us/PDF/AxImages/DOCKETS_2015_THRU_PRESENT/2015-7/8305.pdf

[2] DECISION AND ORDER NO. 33258; Public Utilities Commission; Docket No. 2014-0192

[3] https://www.hawaiianelectric.com/Documents/about_us/news/2015/20151013_der_release_final.pdf

Permitting Wind Energy Projects

Few people really appreciate how long the permitting and approvals stage of the development process can be, particularly for renewable energy projects that are among the first of their kind in a particular jurisdiction.

ANTARES was recently contracted by a county in the mid-Atlantic to evaluate a Special Exception Permit (SEP) application filed by a developer who wishes to build a utility-scale wind farm. This developer has been engaged in discussions with the county for over two years, after acquiring the project from another developer who had also worked on it for a few years. After a very detailed review by ANTARES and the county’s own staff, the county recommended that 17 conditions be placed on the approval of the developers special exception permit. After a public hearing, the county’s Planning and Zoning Committee made a unanimous recommendation to the county’s Board of Supervisors to approve the permit. A few weeks, and anther public hearing later, the Board of Supervisors also made a unanimous decision to approve the SEP with the recommended conditions.

In the project situation described, renewable energy projects under 100 MW are subject to a Permit by Rule process overseen by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Before the process can begin at the state level, the local government must certify compliance with local land use requirements.

After learning of the developer’s interest in the site, the county took action and passed a wind ordinance that regulates the permitting, construction, operations, and eventual decommissioning of utility-scale wind projects within its jurisdiction. In addition to outlining the regulatory process, the adoption of a wind ordinance is an important step in that it protects the interest of the county, its citizens, and its resources. Creating a wind ordinance from scratch can be an ordeal; to facilitate the process, the U.S. Department of Energy’s WindExchange program maintains a catalog of 411 wind energy ordinances from across the country. The WindExchange includes a link to the DOE’s Regional Resource Centers, which were created to provide regionally-focused information on topics such as the wind resource, geography, wildlife, electricity infrastructure, and costs.

The state DEQ acts as the lead agency and coordinates the inputs of the other state and federal agencies that will weigh in on the potential environmental, cultural and historic impacts to the project. At the end of the process, the DEQ issues a report that includes mitigation measures that must be taken to reduce or eliminate impacts of the project. Mitigating measures could involve things like limiting construction to certain seasons, avoiding certain areas of the site, or even curtailing operations during certain seasons and weather conditions.

This particular project is on track to be among the first utility-scale wind projects permitted, and among the first to be approved via the Permit by Rule process. The end of 2017 is earliest it could possibly reach commercial operation, assuming that the rest of the process goes smoothly; at that point, the project will have been under development for nearly 9 years.

ANTARES staff have an exceptional depth of experience in renewable energy projects ranging from owner’s engineering services, to assisting local jurisdictions review projects for ordinance compliance and with public outreach and education. Give us a call if we can assist you with your project.

UPDATE: Solar Employment Continues Growth in 2015

Another year ends and new year begins, and with it comes a myriad of best-ofs, retrospectives, and reports for the past 12 months. Among those, don’t miss the sixth installment of The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census[1], a yearly report covering current employment, trends, and projected growth for all things related to the U.S. solar industry. (I covered the release of the 2014 census in a previous blog post.)

It should be noted that all census activities were conducted prior to the recent extension of the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC).  The ITC was previously slated to be cut or expire altogether at the end of 2016. The Solar Foundation points out that the extension of the ITC may result in slightly lower solar employment growth in 2016 than what was projected in their report due to reduced pressure to complete projects before year’s end. The employment benefits of those projects whose schedules are pushed out will be seen the following year. Coupled with the long-term benefits of the ITC extension, it’s therefore expected that the growth numbers for 2017 and beyond will be higher than those shown in this report, which depict the industry’s future without the ITC extension.

In 2015, solar again continued its upward trend adding an estimated 7.4 GWDC to the grid of new solar PV alone, a 19% increase over 2014[2]. With that growth came a 20.2% increase in solar employment, just shy of the projected 20.9% increase for 2015 published in last year’s report. That’s about 35,000 new jobs just this year, the majority coming from new jobs in the installation sector, which is not surprising considering it makes up about 80% of the industry. That means a huge lift in the number actual boots on roofs. The solar industry’s growth accounted for about 1.2% of all job growth in the nation last year.

Solar Employment Growth by Sector (Source: The Solar Foundation)

Solar Employment Growth by Sector (Source: The Solar Foundation)

As mentioned above, with the recent extension of the ITC, new capacity and job growth in 2016 may be a bit more conservative than the numbers mentioned in the Census, but overall far more stable in the longer run for years ahead. This long-term job growth will likely only be reinforced by new policy and awareness from opportunities such as the newly passed EPA Clean Power Plan and the recent COP 21 Paris Summit on Climate Change.

Of particular note, the report does not explicitly speculate on the expansion of intersections of parallel industries with the solar industry. Energy storage as it relates to solar has seen huge growth in policy, acceptance, and cost effectiveness in the last year. Energy storage and smart controls allow solar energy facilities to be responsible grid citizens by enabling a variety of grid support features at the source of the power. With new mechanisms for monetizing and incentivizing these features it’s estimated that the next few years will bring an exponential increase in energy storage deployments. This expansion of market opportunities for the solar industry is likely to boost employment to new heights as solar becomes a more permanent figure in the smart-grid solution.

figure 2

Energy Storage Deployments by Segment (MW), 2012 – 2019E (Source: GTM Research)

[1] http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/TSF-2015-National-Solar-Jobs-Census.pdf

[2] http://www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-market-insight-2015-q3

The Solar Decathlon’s Legacy

Another chapter of the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon has come to a close. This year saw the Stevens Institute of Technology team, entering with their SURE HOUSE, take top honors overall while also winning many of the individual contests including the coveted architecture and engineering categories. If you’re not familiar with the Solar Decathlon, see our previous post on my experience with the 2011 contest here.

The Stevens house focused a large portion of its design approach on structural and infrastructural resiliency in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. The college is personally familiar with the devastation of the 2012 storm as it lies on the west bank of the Hudson River in Hoboken, NJ, directly in the path of Sandy and other mid-Atlantic storms and nor’easters. The energy plan for the house emphasizes reduced energy use through high-efficiency building materials and appliances such as its robust envelop design and energy recovery systems amounting to an R-40 annual heat loss design. As communities continue to rethink their approaches to building concepts with respect to storm resistance, we’ll very likely see some of the design principles in SURE HOUSE influencing planners and designers.

decathlon 2

SURE House (Image courtesy of Stevens Institute of Technology)

But this is just one promising example of the advanced ideas present at the Solar Decathlon with the potential of making the jump from concept to commercial realization. With all the forward thinking that’s come out of past competitions, it’s actually quite common to look back at past entries and see, what were at the time, untested concepts that have since progressed toward commercial implementation. Many of the design concepts and inspiration behind the now-widespread ‘tiny house’ craze can be traced back to ideas that were forged or proven during past Solar Decathlons including: novel uses (reuses, really) for shipping containers, and dynamic structural elements such as moveable walls that allow the interior space to transform when the occasion calls for it. But aside from the incredible shrinking house, here’s a couple new technologies borne out of past Decathlons that have potential application in a much broader range of design for physical space.

In the 2011 competition, the Ohio State University team developed an innovative new approach to home HVAC and water heating with its integrated energyhawc prototype combining aspects of air conditioning, heating, water heating, ventilation, and dehumidification into a single unified system. Since 2011, the protoype has been continuously developed for subsequent competitions, an OSU capstone course, and now an emerging commercial product being brought to market.  energyhawc touts a SEER rating of 24 and boasts operational savings of 40% over equivalent code standard equipment amounting to a quicker payback period with greater environmental savings as well.

Similarly, the 2007 University of Maryland LEAFHouse (full disclosure, I was a team member, so I’m partial to this one!) developed a novel application of a dehumidification system with a liquid desiccant mechanism at its heart. The system used a partially exposed liquid desiccant waterfall to pull moisture from the air inside the house and trap it in the desiccant solution thereby reducing the massive conditioning loads on the HVAC system that are especially prevalent during summer and fall in the mid-Atlantic area. UMD explored this concept further in 2011 with their Watershed house where the HVAC team improved on the design by integrating a highly attractive chamber filled with plastic column packing spheres to increase the liquid-air reaction times for increased performance. The technology is patent pending and a new business has been formed to bring the product to market.

Watershed liquid desiccant wall (Image Courtesy of Stefano Paltera/US Department of Energy)

Watershed liquid desiccant wall (Image Courtesy of Stefano Paltera/US Department of Energy)

Since its inaugural contest in 2002, the competition has spurred Solar Decathlons Europe, starting in 2010, and more recently Solar Decathlon China in 2013. As the competitions and technologies continue to evolve, there’s no doubt that we’ll start to see even more novel engineering and architectural concepts reach widespread adoption.

ACEEE Publishes 2015 State Scorecards

ACEEE has released its annual “State Energy Scorecard” for 2015 that ranks states based on a variety of criteria such as: utility policies and programs, transportation policies, building energy codes, combined heat and power (CHP) policies, state government-led initiatives, and appliance standards.   A summary of key findings is detailed here, while the full scorecards for each state can be found here.

The top 10 states for energy efficiency are Massachusetts, California, Vermont, Rhode Island, Oregon, Connecticut, Maryland, Washington, and New York, with Minnesota and Illinois tied for 10th place.

It is noteworthy that renewable energy consumption is not included in the ranking criteria.  Although the installation or usage of renewable energy technology does not necessarily reduce energy consumption, it does reduce the consumption of energy generated using more conventional non-renewable methods such as coal and natural gas.  Since the terms “energy efficiency” and “renewable energy” seem to go hand-in-hand these days, perhaps ACEEE will include this criteria in future rankings as a measure of overall efficiency.

It will also be interesting to see how the rankings change within the next few years, as several states are in the process of changing their policies and programs.  In particular, New York State’s organization NYSERDA is revising their program to place a larger emphasis on the R&D of new clean energy technologies.  They are also in the process of phasing out incentives that they currently provide to energy-reduction projects.  Although the effect may be a short term reduction in the growth rate of the state’s energy savings, the plan is that it will spur greater long term energy savings and promote economic growth.

Third Quarter Wind Installations Released for US

Last week the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released its Third Quarter 2015 Market Report.

The U.S. currently has an installed wind capacity of 69,471 MW and 49,860 wind turbines. The wind industry installed 1,602 MW of capacity in the third quarter of 2015, on top of the 1,994 MW were installed in the first two quarters of 2015, for a total of 3,596 MW year to date.

Current US Wind Power Capacity Installations, by State:

wind 1

It’s fairly safe to say that these projects started construction in 2014 or earlier. This is noteworthy, because although the PTC is expired, wind projects that began construction before December 31, 2014 are still eligible to claim the 30% credit.

US Wind Power Capacity Installations, by Quarter:

wind 2

The report also indicates that 1,250 MW of new construction began in the third quarter, for a total of 4,650 MW of new construction activity reported year to date.  This includes 1,200 MW reported in the 1Q and 2,200 MW for the 2Q. Unless the PTC is retroactively renewed, these new projects will not be eligible for the PTC.

Of particular note is that the 3Q new construction activity includes the largest wind project to be constructed in the Southeast, the 208 MW Amazon Wind Farm US East, which will be located in Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties, North Carolina, with a planned commercial operation date of December 2016. The only other wind project currently operating in the Southeast is the 29 MW Buffalo Mountain Wind Energy Center, which is located near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and was completed in 2004.

News from the Front: SPI 2015 in Review

Earlier this month ANTARES returned to Solar Power International. I made the trek across the country to Anaheim and met up with Ali Schmidt from our Petaluma, CA office for a non-stop week of all things solar (you can check out Ali’s reflections on the event in a previous blog post here). If you’re unfamiliar SPI, it’s the largest solar conference in North America and amasses over 15,000 solar industry professionals from 75+ countries for a week-long affair of networking events, industry speakers, education sessions, and of course the expo hall floor with more than 600 manufacturers, service providers, and vendors.

This year’s host was the Anaheim Convention Center just across the way from Disneyland, not surprisingly the de facto location for this year’s perennial SPI Block Party. This attendee was dragged kicking and screaming to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror by his boss in what I have assumed was a lesson in stress management  (see embarrassing photo evidence).

spi conference

Listening to the array of speakers and checking out the newest equipment offerings always gives a good pulse on the current trends of the industry and what the next big thing is going to be in solar. This year’s major themes seemed to be the grid of tomorrow and what I ended up dubbing ITC Chicken Little.

With the continued flourishing of utility-scale solar deployment, it’s likely no great surprise that storage was a hot-button issue at this year’s conference. With increased T&D penetration levels and larger MW-scale projects becoming common on both coasts, the DSO/ISO/RTO’s ability to manage those resources and best put them to use where they’ll mean the most has taken center-stage in discussions of what the grid will ultimately look like 5, 10, 20 years forward and beyond. The big buzzwords here from grid operators were demand response, peak shifting, and voltage & frequency regulation. The take-away is that the energy solar generates doesn’t necessarily coincide with the peak demand periods when it is most needed to offset dispatchable, costly spinning reserves that grid operators have to call on during those big demand periods. Further the intermittent nature of solar power without storage can create power quality and forecasting issues for grid operators. Here, storage can step in and stockpile that energy to be discharged at a later, more opportune time or supplement solar output during the daytime at moments when the PV system sees a sudden drop in power output (for example, when cloud cover rolls over a project site). And these technologies aren’t limited just to the larger utility-scale installs; some of the biggest buzz is coming from the residential sector where models for monetizing in-home storage through grid support functions will likely be popping up in the near term.

Storage may also work together with newer smart solar inverter functionality which will allow for, among other things, dispatchable reactive power control and advanced ride-through settings for increased grid stability. Larger systems may also start to see curtailment of PV output power by grid operators.

And of course, like a raincloud hanging over the conference, there was the looming threat of the expiration of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) which is set to be reduced to 10% for commercial projects and eliminated altogether for residential projects at the end of 2016. Industry advocacy groups shared the role of Chicken Little speculating of severe detrimental effects on the rapidly growing solar industry pointing to the expiration of the wind PTC and the resulting boom-bust of that industry. As solar starts to approach, and in some places surpass, grid parity the opinions around the industry on how to deal with the incentive expiration vary from demands for extending the ITC outright, to stepping it down slowly allowing the industry to react gradually, to just a handful arguing it’s the time to say goodbye to the long-time federal incentive.

But regardless of the final decision on the ITC, it seems that the new EPA Clean Power Plan could help bridge that gap with the newly approved policy which seeks to reduce carbon emissions from national electricity generation by 30% by 2030 (based on a benchmark of 2005 emissions). Generally, it certainly seems that the industry has just about reached a boiling point and it’s now become essential to start looking at solar from a more holistic point of view as part of the bigger-picture of national power infrastructure. As usual, policy from our government agencies, state level commissions, and utility grid operators leads the way. It’s an exciting time for the power sector as a whole as all stakeholders work to shape the next generation of our transmission and distribution systems.