Meet Renovate: SEPA’s initiative to evolve state regulatory processes in the power sector

smart electric power alliance

State regulatory processes in the power sector are often unable to keep pace with the needs of customers and evolution of renewable technology. The Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) is teaming with a group of national nonprofit organizations on a new initiative, Renovate, to help change that by developing more effective ways of working together to identify and deliver new solutions.

The initiative’s vision is to enable the evolution of state regulatory processes and practices in order to address the scalable deployment of innovative technologies and business operating models that support the transition to a clean and modern energy grid.

“State commissions are focused on balancing the needs of many stakeholders and have constrained resources for developing processes to better understand emerging innovations and issues,” said NARUC President Nick Wagner. “That is why we are pleased, and find it important, to have partnerships such as we have with the Renovate Initiative and its wide range of stakeholders.”

To begin Renovate, a task force including commissioners, consumer and environmental advocates, legislators, and leaders from utilities, solution providers and state energy offices alongside initiative partners identified problem statements to guide the initiative’s focus. The problem statements include issues on the steep learning curve for all industry participants, managing system risk and uncertainty, managing increased rate of change and the balancing and cross-coordination of multiple priority sets.

“Our nation’s clean energy transition will go faster and more smoothly if we can change how utilities are regulated, so that rather than relying so heavily on trial-type procedures, final decisions reflect more flexible and collaborative approaches,” said Ralph Cavanagh, Energy co-director of the Climate and Clean Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Otherwise costs and delays will remain excessive, and public involvement will suffer.”

SEPA, as a non-advocating convening group, seeks through this initiative to unlock a collaborative, transparent and more coordinated, productive path to scale solutions more quickly without sacrificing consumer protections. The Renovate initiative will be led by Janet Gail Besser, who recently joined SEPA as a Managing Director. Besser brings nationally recognized expertise and broad industry experience as a regulator, utility executive, developer, consultant, and consumer advocate to the role.

Working with a task force of stakeholder representatives and partners, the next phase of the initiative entails identifying a set of solutions to designated problem statements, and identifying, assessing and benchmarking existing regulatory innovations—both domestically and globally—which will include the development and publication of key illustrative case studies.

Renovate Partner Organizations

American Public Power Association (APPA)
Edison Electric Institute (EEI)
Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC)
National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions (NARUC)
National Association of State Energy Offices (NASEO)
National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
National Governors Association (NGA)
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)
Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP)
Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)
Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA)

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The Residential Rooftop Report for the first quarter of 2019 is now available for download. The theme is “Heating Up Sales,” and we’ve teamed up with report sponsor Aurora Solar to examine ways for residential solar installation companies to lower customer acquisition costs, close more leads and overall run a more streamlined, efficient local solar business. Just fill out the form below to access your free report.

— Solar Builder magazine

Richard Branson wants to fund renewable energy via a Clean Energy Dividend concept

richard branson

© Andrés Jiménez

Sir Richard Branson has shared his vision for a Clean Energy Dividend which he hopes will tackle climate change. Writing in his blog, amid scenes of climate change marches around the world, he states his belief that there will be an opportunity to create millions of jobs whilst also driving down the price of fuels in the long term.

Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group Founder wrote:

“I believe there is an extremely simple way to whip climate change and I plan to set it out below. It’s wonderful to see children all over the world marching today for such an important cause and they are absolutely right that if we don’t implement ideas immediately then their lives and their children’s lives are going to be imperilled.

Many people working on this subject believe the world needs a carbon tax on dirty fuels – coal and oil – to solve the problem. However, the problem with a carbon tax is that it has so far been impossible to impose without governments falling. The Australian government tried to bring one in and they were kicked out – the new government cancelled it. In November 2018, the state of Washington voted against a carbon tax for the second time in two years.

Carbon taxes are of course well-intentioned. But others are skeptical that they will raise enough resources to tackle the problem, or if the money will actually even be spent on the issue. So aside from being unpopular with the companies, carbon taxes are also often unpopular with the public and unpopular with governments. There are really no winners – except ultimately the globe and the environment

So I would like to propose the following: a Clean Energy Dividend.”

The Virgin Group founder went on to add important points around why companies around the world should support this dividend adding:

“Every company in the world should accept a Clean Energy Dividend to be imposed on the fossil fuel they use and the carbon emissions they cause. The dividend could be the equivalent percentage that a carbon tax would have been, and based on cutting pollution at the rate the climate science shows is necessary. However, unlike a carbon tax, that money wouldn’t disappear into government coffers, but would be used specifically to be invested in generating clean energy through wind farms and solar panels, as well as the development of more low carbon fuels and other breakthrough technologies. The companies, through those investments, can get that money back, plus dividends (it would be wise to have some independent governance to make absolutely certain that all companies comply with this remit.)

The good news about this approach is that:

  1. Clean energy will have literally billions poured into it over the next few years – enough money to switch the world from dirty to clean energy. This is important because what climate change initiatives are still lacking at the moment is major investment.
  2. Companies investing this money should be happy because the investments they make should be secure ones.
  3. Millions of new jobs will be created through a climate change revolution.
  4. The public should be happy because although some fuel prices might increase in the short-term, the competition from clean fuel will rapidly drive prices of both dirty and clean fuel down very quickly and they will stay down forever.
  5. Governments should be happy because the lower fuel prices will result in a great boost to the economy. Lower fuel prices are politically attractive and politicians will also be able to say that by implementing this, they have made a major move towards getting on top of climate change.

“This is a win-win all-round. It’s a win for companies, a win for the people who work in them, a win for the public, a win for creating new jobs, win for governments, and most importantly of all a win for our beautiful globe.”

roof top reportDownload the new Residential Rooftop Report to heat up your solar sales

The Residential Rooftop Report for the first quarter of 2019 is now available for download. The theme is “Heating Up Sales,” and we’ve teamed up with report sponsor Aurora Solar to examine ways for residential solar installation companies to lower customer acquisition costs, close more leads and overall run a more streamlined, efficient local solar business. Just fill out the form below to access your free report.

— Solar Builder magazine

Riding the Wave: How Morningstar designed its software-first solar inverter for the lithium battery age

Morningstar Multiwave

Solar inverters have improved so much over the years that they are all starting to seem comparable in power and performance these days, but a new entry hitting the market from Morningstar stands out because it wasn’t being built for “these days.”

For starters, Morningstar isn’t a solar inverter company. It is an employee-owned business that has specialized in passively cooled charge controllers for 25 years. When it finally decided to develop its own solar inverter, the team started with a different goal in mind: Build the ultimate off-grid solar inverter for the lithium battery storage era. The tangible result, the 4-kW Multiwave solar+storage inverter, will be ready to ship this summer.

The Multiwave is best suited for markets where there is no grid or sell back is discouraged or not incentivized and operates in one of three ways: off-grid solar with generator backup (its primary segment right now); solar priority with grid support (a.k.a. self-consumption operation); and backup and uninterrupted power supply (UPS). Let’s look into how it works.

High(brid) frequency

At a base level, what makes Multiwave ideal for lithium batteries is (surprise) its charging capabilities. What goes into the battery is what comes out, with nary a conversion loss. To hit that level of efficiency, the inverter needed to use high-frequency topology.

“We came at this analytically: How can we design the next gen inverters for the post-lead-acid age?” says Mark Cerasuolo, marketing director for Morningstar. “We looked at where wanted to go and realized high frequency was the way to get there.”

Solar inverters are usually low frequency because it is a great way to generate grid-quality electricity while providing adequate protection for sensitive internal circuitry. This is all due to using/needing large transformers. High-frequency topology on the other hand can achieve switching at much faster rates and remove the need for large transformers and magnetics, but for years the componentry just wasn’t reliable enough to protect sensitivity circuitry.

Morningstar says they were able to smoosh together the advantages of high and low frequency by choosing hardware components for their performance instead of economics (over-specing in some cases), by relying on their thermal engineering expertise and by building it around the platform’s software capabilities.

The cool factor

OK, so I lied earlier, Morningstar built a solar inverter previously. They were involved in a big rural electrification project in Brazil that called for 20,000 300-W solar inverters that all had to be quiet, sealed and tamper proof. This led to the development of the SureSine.

“It will keep its cool all day at full tilt and surge up to 600 watts,” Cerasulo says. “They were even designed to take a dead short. You can’t hurt them. We cut our teeth on that.”

The Multiwave borrows from the SureSine template, mainly its quiet ruggedness and power. Like every product in the Morningstar lineup, the Multiwave doesn’t need a cooling fan, which is a common point of failure for chargers and inverters. They are also parasitic, noisey and capable of sucking in debris. They can burn out and are often warrantied for fewer years than the rest of the inverter. Morningstar prides itself on its thermal engineering, and Cerasuolo says the Multiwave is the only inverter in its power class that is passively cooled.

Software-driven results

As solar system installations increase, more PV systems will be installed by less skilled people and will require more of a focus on ongoing customer service and serviceability. This is why Morningstar spent more time on the software and interface than is typical.

“We used a bit of reverse thinking,” Cerasulo says. “The majority of inverters are hardware-focused first with the control software adapted to that. In this case, we wanted a solution that was more software driven and then a hardware platform that makes it possible.”

Morningstar Multiwave

With no transformer or cooling fans and fewer magnetics, the Multiwave is less cramped on the inside, making O&M simple.

The added design complexity on their end leaves less complexity on the installer and user’s end. Plus, with no transformer, no cooling fans, fewer magnetics and a software-first design, the Multiwave is lightweight and less cramped on the inside, making O&M (stuff like switching out the control board) simple for people with regular human hands. To me, this simplicity is another “future-proof” element of the Multiwave. Some examples:

  • It comes pre-programmed
  • One person can lift it and put it on a wall.
  • Much of the main circuitry is in one large board. So if there is a failure, you can swap it out pretty easily.
  • It is expandable. A built-in DIN “Ready Rail” allows you to add on and sync up generator control, system monitoring alert capabilities and battery management systems as simply as inserting a USB drive in a laptop.
  • To help achieve its No. 1 design goal — building it for the lithium battery era — the company can also provide specific programming instructions for any battery submitted to its lithium battery Partner Program.

Energy Storage Partner Program explained

Lithium batteries, specifically the safer lithium-iron phosphate (LiFePo) types, have a lot of potential, but they are higher priced than lead-acid and require different usage strategies and settings. The Energy Storage Partner program is purpose-built to address these nuances.

“It’s not as easy as just dropping this stuff in, so we said, well, let’s make it as easy as just dropping this stuff in,” Cerasuolo says.

On the product side, the MultiWave inverter/charger and selected Morningstar charge controllers have a lithium “foldback” feature. Lithium batteries can be damaged when charged under cold conditions. So, if it drops below freezing, the system will cut back on charging and even turn it off.

As for battery specific set points, that’s where the Energy Storage Partner Program comes in.

“Increasingly, we have installers asking for complete instructions on how to set them up with certain lithium batteries,” Cerasuolo notes. “So, for batteries in our Partner Program, we make sure they’re compatible and then we come up with the guide to use that battery with our product. Basically, what we’ve done is demonstrate our compatibility with the leading brands of advanced battery chemistries (mostly LiFePO4) to provide new and existing customers peace of mind that Morningstar products are able to adapt to the requirements of new battery technologies.”

“Through direct cooperation with each manufacturer, we have derived the appropriate setting values required for successful integration with each compatible Morningstar product,” says Jacob Sherry, applications engineer for Morningstar. “These settings correspond with industry-standard terminology and conventional charging algorithms found in battery-based power electronics.”

For example, many of the critical settings detailed in each document pertain to adaptation of the standard multi-stage charging profile used to charge lead-acid and other battery chemistries. Therefore, it is required that each brand provide specific recommendations for absorption voltage, absorption time and float voltage (if needed). Battery High Voltage Disconnect (HVD) and Load Low Voltage Disconnect (LVD) are also important settings to consider, since many controllers can be damaged due to a battery overvoltage disconnect during charging. Similarly, many lithium batteries may require manual site intervention at uncontrolled low Depth of Discharge (DoD).

“All of these values can vary quite significantly between manufacturers, depending on their specific cell characteristics and the tolerances of their particular Battery Management System,” Sherry says. “Having these settings and information properly documented provides a wonderful convenience for our customers who may be interested in exploring the benefits of newer battery technologies, without losing the quality and reliability of their favorite charging solution.”

The Multiwave isn’t shipping yet, but you can check it out at the NABCEP Continuing Education Conference March 26-27. If you’re interested in adding lithium batteries to a new or existing system, check out Morningstar’s Energy Partner Program here.

— Solar Builder magazine