Navisun acquires OSG Solar I project in Massachusetts


Navisun LLC acquired OSG Solar I LLC, a 2.746-MWdc solar project located in Orange, Mass., that commenced operations in mid-2012. Navisun received financing from Ares Capital Corporation, which will be used to develop, construct, acquire, own, and operate solar projects in the United States.

“We are excited about the acquisition of OSG Solar,” said Douglas Johnsen, Navisun’s Managing Partner and Co-Founder. “The purchase inaugurates our mission to develop a portfolio of solar projects across the United States.”

“Receiving financing from Ares Capital was a significant milestone for Navisun,” said John Malloy, Navisun’s Managing Partner and Co-Founder. “At a time when it is difficult for a new company to obtain traditional financing, Ares Capital provided a flexible capital solution that allows us to execute our business plan of becoming a market leader in the distributed and small utility scale solar power sector.”

— Solar Builder magazine

SMA Utility Power Rack solution comes pre-assembled, possible 40 percent cost savings

SMA's Utility Power Rack

SMA is now taking orders for its Utility Power Rack 5000/5500, a highly integrated, turnkey solution that offers up to 40 percent integration cost savings over alternative solutions. It is completely pre-assembled for easy set up and commissioning, reducing time-consuming labor processes in the field and minimizing installation risk.

Compatible with both Sunny Central and Sunny Central Storage 2500-EV(-US) and 2750-EV(-US) inverters, the Utility Power Rack is the ideal building block for large-scale PV plants. It offers true 1,500 V technology, which means more reliable stack design and long-term, trouble-free operation. The design is based on more than 10 GW of field-proven Sunny Central inverters in North America, and is backed by more than 35 years and 65 GW of proven experience from SMA globally—meaning reduced risk for PV plant investments.

The Utility Power Rack can be used with multiple storage options from SMA, providing a standardized process for integrators who are working on both PV and storage projects. It also includes a multitude of configurable options to meet the needs of any plant.

On the Scene: We went to the Eaton Experience Center to see the grid’s future

“This newest solution sits atop SMA’s North American utility-scale portfolio and enables faster installation and reduced labor costs, as well as the flexibility to integrate storage,” said Boris Wolff, executive vice president for SMA’s Utility business unit. “By making all critical connections in the factory rather than in the field, we further reduce risk during the installation process.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Details on ABB’s new residential inverter series now available in the U.S.

ABB UNO-DM family

The new UNO-DM-PLUS-US series from ABB is now available for immediate shipment in the U.S. Available in five power ratings, from 3.3 to 6.0 kW, these solar inverters have a compact design that delivers high performance with excellent power density enabling maximum energy production. They are designed with digital intelligence and technical sophistication that optimizes the performance of residential PV installations.

Code compliance is not a problem with this family. The UNO-DM-PLUS-US series is Rule 21 phase 2/UL1741-SA and is SunSpec Certified. The UNO-DM-PLUS-US series is compatible with ABB’s string-level Rapid Shutdown. The ABB RSD 2.0 unit is available in single and dual channel connections and installs to the panel in a snap, literally.

“The UNO-DM-PLUS’s new design wraps ABB’s quality and engineering into a lightweight and compact package; meanwhile, it embraces the digital advances and code requirements the industry requires,” said Mario Thomas, product manager for string inverters at ABB’s Solar business in the U.S.

This flexible inverter design comes with embedded connectivity and efficient communication SunSpec Protocol, which enables the UNO-DM-PLUS-US to be easily integrated within any current or future device for smart building automation, smart grid integration and with third party monitoring and control systems. The UNO-DM-PLUS-US also comes with remote Over the Air (OTA) firmware upgrade for inverter and components.

Once the inverter is installed, operators can turn to a smartphone to commission the unit via a simple, built-in web user interface. This enables them to gain access to features such as advanced inverter configuration settings and Aurora Manager, which facilitates OTA firmware updates (remote software updates). Further efficiencies gained, with installation times greatly reduced due to an easy commissioning wizard, which simplifies the configuration process resulting in lower installation time and reduced costs.

— Solar Builder magazine

This online solar training program looks to speed workforce development

solar online training

Interplay Learning launched a new solar industry training program that will put training capabilities directly in the hands of trade contractors, equipment manufacturers, and field service departments. This new tool is powered by online simulation-based learning and Virtual Reality and could help overcome daily challenges hiring, training and maintaining a skilled workforce to keep pace with the capacity of their businesses.

Interplay Learning is a software company that develops and delivers scalable and effective training for the mechanical, electrical and industrial workforce, using Virtual Reality and 3D simulation. With expertise developed over the last 7 years in simulation training in the HVAC, Electrical, Energy Auditing, Solar Install, Manufacturing, and Construction Codes industries, Interplay offers both off-the-shelf and custom solutions to solve difficult workforce training challenges.

Developed in partnership with Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, the Solar Training Program interconnects online 3D and Virtual Reality (VR) simulations, video training, procedure guides and in-the-field apps to rapidly advance technical skills for solar companies, EPCs, solar equipment manufacturers, and workforce development organizations. The Solar Training Program upon launch will feature more than 40 hours of learning via 75 simulations and 100 videos for rapid acquisition of solar installation and service skills.

“The ability to mimic hands-on training in a simple, scalable solution is a game changer for future skills development in electrical, mechanical and industrial settings,” says Doug Donovan, CEO of Interplay Learning. “The fast-growing Solar industry is the perfect place to demonstrate its effectiveness.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Context Clues: Know where to find the value when selling commercial solar solutions

magnifying glass

Land in any airport, and the view tells the story. Commercial buildings with fresh paint and no solar panels on them yet. Residential customers may commit to solar for a variety of personal and ethical reasons, but nonresidential property owners tend toward the pragmatic.

They make business decisions based on profits.

This historically lagging solar segment is starting to come around though. In the Q3 2017 U.S. Solar Market Insight report from GTM Research, which showed a 22 percent decline for the overall industry year over year, also showed that nonresidential solar grew 22 percent, installing 481 MW.

The business is out there. The installers who present solutions based on a clear understanding of nonresidential energy costs can build momentum in what may turn out to be the largest solar segment of all.

Utility tariff structures

Commercial and industrial customers have complex energy needs that go far beyond a simple “go / no-go” decision for a solar project. In particular, these customers pay much of their electricity bill in the form of demand charges. These charges can be quite complex, featuring “ratchets” and other calculations resulting in very high charges that can last for many months after a simple error in operations. In many utility service territories, demand charges comprise more than one-third of the customer’s electricity bill; in a few, it’s more than one-half.

In addition to rising demand charges, changes in time-of-use (TOU) rate structures in many states have customers scrambling for solutions. While there is no doubt that solar can deliver significant energy savings to a nonresidential customer, a traditional solar installation provides little or no reduction in demand charges for most accounts, nor any control over the time of day when energy is consumed.

A solar installation that delivers big energy savings may result in little or no demand savings. As shown in Figure 1, a single cloud at the wrong time on the wrong day can wipe out a month’s worth of savings. Without appropriate demand management technology, net load can “spike” to create a new monthly peak demand.

solar storage

Figure 1: Solar Plus Demand Management, Office Building, July 2015

Solar providers are increasingly finding that when they propose new projects to their nonresidential customers, these customers are more informed and sophisticated about their energy needs. Odds are good that a storage provider has already come calling to see if a battery system could help with TOU rates and demand charges, but batteries are still very expensive, and in states without significant subsidies, they often don’t pencil out on their own, either.

In our interviews with solar professionals this past summer, we were told over and over that because of changes in the market, “it’s time to get off the roof and come inside.” Until a solar provider has a more complete picture of a customer’s energy needs — their energy usage patterns and the business needs driving those patterns — that provider is competing at a disadvantage. In reality, any solar solution needs to be presented in the context of these usage patterns and needs.

From Tesla cars to Gigafactories, there is a lot of news about battery storage, and as battery costs continue dropping, some smart solar providers are exploring becoming solar-plus-storage providers. In some states with high incentives for batteries (and with some clever use of the Investment Tax Credit), this can be a good combination. In many cases, load flexibility is both more valuable and less expensive than batteries. Simple changes in operation (undetectable to building occupants in commercial buildings and easy to manage in many industrial facilities) can offset the variation in solar output and eliminate spikes that cause high demand charges, but only with the right tools. Such load flexibility can actually complement storage solutions. With the right analysis, taking advantage of flexible loads can help a customer to right-size energy storage subsystems for a more cost-effective total package. The solar triple play — solar plus storage plus load flexibility — can be a potent solution to a variety of customer energy challenges.

RELATED: Our Project of the Year for 2017 is a great example of finding value

Expanding the comfort zone

There are no serious technical impediments to delivering nonresidential solar solutions that bring both energy and demand charge savings. The trends are all in favor of such solutions:

  • Storage devices (both batteries and thermal storage) are declining in price quite rapidly; new announcements from both established and new storage vendors appear weekly.
  • Building and industrial controls are becoming more sophisticated and more standardized.
  • Sensors and data networks are increasingly affordable and more universally deployed.
  • Big data analytics are becoming more widespread, powerful and accessible.
  • Software solutions taking advantage of machine learning and advanced control algorithms will soon be widely available for application in real-world customer energy solutions.

As with many new major shifts, the technology outlook is bright, but the biggest change required is cultural. Solar providers with a high comfort level matching panels and inverters to customer roofs and electrical systems may face a steep learning curve when moving into the less-familiar world of building and industrial operations. Inside the facility, it’s a whole different world, but one that every complete customer energy solutions provider must understand.

The good news is that many of the initial fact-finding steps are the same as those required for solar installations everywhere. The customer billing data, load profile data and utility tariff information remain the foundation of any good proposed solution. Creating a complete energy solution, however, requires a more complete supplier ecosystem than most current solar providers can deliver alone.

Some of the most fruitful conversations we had last year at Intersolar and Solar Power International were about the development of that bigger ecosystem. Numerous battery vendors, many of whom originally came out of the market for small, off-grid applications, began to describe how their offerings could be adapted for commercial building applications in demand-charge reductions. Software startups, many of whom got their start from DOE SunShot awards, contributed ideas for better data visualization and control. And while control vendors have not even been present at past solar events, a few are starting to recognize the synergies between solar and load flexibility.

The future is promising for innovative solar providers who are willing to broaden their offerings and embrace a total energy solution approach for commercial and industrial customers. We invite feedback and conversation with any solar providers with insights into how the nonresidential market is changing, and how to strengthen the emerging ecosystem of nonresidential energy solution providers.

John T. Powers is founder and CEO of Extensible Energy. An energy economist with more than 30 years of experience in consulting and technology development for the electric utility industry, Powers has worked in energy efficiency, demand response and renewables for most of his career. He currently serves as project officer for the Community Solar Value Project, a DOE SunShot project helping utilities to develop better community solar programs.

— Solar Builder magazine