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)


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

Solar Power Northeast takeaways: Solar’s Catch 22 options for navigating politicians, utilities and the public

solar power northeast 2019

The Northeast is a mature solar market already, but how can it keep on growing from here? Solar Power Northeast in Boston last week offered some ideas, but to me, mostly highlighted the complex utility-politician-public dynamic that leads to a lot of Catch 22 solutions. See if you can follow my scattered notes (and logic) here.

  • SEPA listed a focus on changing regulatory process to keep up with the pace of innovation as one of its goals going forward. This would be our top goal too, if we could vote. Even though it inherently sounds impossible, it also sounds like a “duh” idea. You mean the ways in which we govern and build society should match the tools and industries of the moment, and not those from 100 years ago? I don’t know. Let’s deliberate this for the next 10 years first. 

 

  • From the stage in the opening session, Representative Thomas A. Golden Jr., Massachusetts House of Representatives, explained how to best approach a representative when advocating for solar energy. He noted just how many people a representative is hearing from, all day every day, from a wide swath of industries, which means every meeting must provide a quick 101 of the issues at hand. But my main takeaway: Even if an idea is no-brainer common sense, if the representative doesn’t think there will be a groundswell of votes from their constituents, then they won’t be that interested.

Don’t miss our Solar Installer Issue in March — subscribe to Solar Builder magazine (print or digital) for FREE today

 

  • But the thing is: the populace does seem interested! SEIA’s numbers show that even 74 percent of GOP voters want government to do more with solar. During the opening session, Lynda Tocci, Principal at Dewey Square, an advocacy group, echoed this. From her view, solar should be a pretty easy sell because there is a message in solar for everyone – libertarians, conservatives, liberals.

 

  • But back to what Golden was saying, it is easy for someone to have interest in solar as a concept, but still be misinformed about its actual value here in 2019. This is Golden’s point. He understands that the value proposition of solar has changed so much over the last few years because this is an area he focuses on, but he knows it is not common enough knowledge among everyday people.

 

  • So, how does it become common knowledge? Tocci suggested the opportunity here is for solar installers to bridge the gap and tie advocacy efforts into their sales and marketing. Maybe providing a kit or an easy way for customers to advocate on solar’s behalf after they install a system. Or maybe mailers that make the show how regulatory decisions are tied to their energy bills. “Making an investment in advocacy is business development,” she says.

 

  • I like Tocci’s idea, and I get Golden’s point. But here’s my question is: why should it still be on solar installers to be the main group pushing along this ground swell? Knowing all we know about solar technology and its value now, isn’t this like asking plumbers to advocate for the value of indoor plumbing? When do representatives have an obligation to make informed decisions in everyone’s best interest from their more informed vantage point? Or better yet, utilities. Proactive utilities play a huge role, if they choose to, in helping to drive renewable energy demand, which would not just lower customer bills but also CAC costs. More solar adoption is tied to lower solar costs.

 

  • SEPA is playing a role in this effort. Gregory Dudkin, President, Electric Utilities for PPL Electric Utilities, mentioned that after hearing about Hawaii’s problems after connecting PV in abundance without the plan in place to deal with it, PPL Electric became proactive. Pennsylvania isn’t known for its solar industry yet, but PPL Electric realized its responsibility anyway and is ready to not just deal with large amounts of PV, but to encourage it. Thanks to its new automated system, it is now responding to 75 percent of residents’ solar project approval in 24 hours (soon to be 85 percent.)

 

  • But there are certainly challenges here too. Dudkin also said Pennsylvania floated legislation for EV infrastructure, but received a lot of pushback from the public feeling it was “just subsidizing rich people getting Teslas.” Which is a sentiment you can certainly understand.

 

So, there you have it. We all just need to figure out how to get public utilities, politicians and people all on the same page. Shouldn’t be that hard, right?

— Solar Builder magazine

New report says half of all U.S. consumers are interested in an energy management platform

energy management

A new report, “Consumer Platform of the Future: Industry Insider Perspectives,” looks at the current state of these digital platforms, which include online marketplaces, and data tools for tracking energy usage. Co-authored by the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) and the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), the report also covers future trends that industry experts see in this area and the key components that will make these solutions successful.

“Our consumer surveying on digital platforms has indicated that about half of all U.S. consumers are interested in using a platform for energy management,” said Patty Durand, President and CEO, SECC. “This new white paper provides detailed information, sourced from a wide range of industry experts, that electricity providers can use to successfully roll out a platform of their own that effectively meets these consumers’ needs and wants.”

Based on 16 interviews with energy industry leaders – including electricity providers, technology vendors and consumer advocates – the new report aims to share knowledge and lessons learned with other industry leaders as they plan and implement their own consumer platforms.

Platform vs. portal

The report clearly defines the difference between a consumer platform and a customer portal, explaining how these distinct but interrelated tools are commonly structured, and details how two utilities are using them to more actively engage customers in their energy use.

“The message here is clear: utilities have to go where their customers are – which, increasingly, is online,” said Sharon Thomas, the SEPA Research Analyst who was lead author on the report. “They’ve got intense competition, from Amazon, down to the local restaurant that lets you order online. It’s no surprise that the energy industry leaders we interviewed for this report identified quick and easy access to information as the No. 1 must-have for utilities’ digital platforms for their residential customers.”

Interviewees also share their perspectives on the key features that make a digital customer engagement tool successful. In addition to easy access to information, other must-haves include clear and easy-to-understand information on options and recommendations, and better control of home energy use.

The report identifies some of the challenges utilities and solution providers face with wider adoption of digital tools for customer engagement and proposes solutions and recommendations for each. The most pressing concerns here include working within existing regulatory rules and figuring out the most compelling interests for a range of consumers.

— Solar Builder magazine

SEPA Storage Market Snapshot shows growing interest in solar plus storage by utilities

utility energy storage

Storage has been more of a buzz word/ discussion topic than an adopted technology on the grid to this point, but the needle is now moving, judging by the results of the 2018 Utility Energy Storage Market Snapshot released by the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA). The 137 utilities that submitted data for SEPA’s survey represent more than 82 million customer accounts –or about 57.5 percent of the 143 million customer accounts in the country — and say they have interconnected 216.7 megawatts (MW), 523.9 megawatt hours (MWh) of energy storage to the grid across a total of 2,588 systems in 2017. By the end of the year, cumulative deployed energy storage had reached 922.8 MW, 1,293.6 MWh across 5,167 systems, nationwide.

Some other key findings

• In 2017, residential energy storage accounted for 13.3 MW, 29.3 MWh; while non-residential added 59 MW, 139.7 MWh; and utility supply reported 144.4 MW, 354.9 MWh.

• The Advancing Commonwealth Energy Storage (ACES) initiative in Massachusetts has provided $20 million in funding for 26 storage pilot projects.

• Storage technologies are being deployed in demonstration projects across a wide range of applications including aggregated behind-the-meter batteries, stand-alone deployments for ancillary services and load shifting, traditional-battery hybrid power plants, non-wires alternatives and as the key asset of a microgrid.

• Behind-the-meter battery storage customer offerings are of key interest to utilities, 64 percent interested, planning, or actively implementing an offering. Green Mountain Power is leading the charge with two pilots: a Tesla Powerwall and a Bring Your Own Battery.

• Plus storage projects are rapidly emerging across the U.S. as the costs decline and utilities leverage the capabilities these systems can offer. Salt River Project is testing a solar plus storage project for smoothing out intermittent renewable generation, while the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative now has a solar plus storage system that provides fully dispatchable solar power.

“Lithium-ion battery storage is a grid asset like none that has ever existed. Multiple utilities are testing the many capabilities of these assets in demonstration projects and programs including aggregated residential battery storage, fully dispatchable solar plus storage, and microgrids,” said Nick Esch SEPA’s Senior Research Associate, “Nationally, the storage market is quite nascent. However, state policy action and regulatory action are creating opportunities in local energy storage markets. Hawaii and California are the leading markets today, but Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Nevada will not be behind for long.”

— Solar Builder magazine

SEPA argues ‘the U.S. solar market did not contract last year’ (here’s the data)

Roadrunner Food Bank

The C&I segment rise in 2017 is one key factor in this argument. Our Project of the Year for 2017 was one such project.

Taking longer-term trends into account, a new report from the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) argues that — a drop in megawatts notwithstanding — the U.S. solar market did not contract last year. Rather, the 2018 Utility Solar Market Snapshot sees 2016’s growth spike as an outlier in the industry’s decade-long pattern of steady, continuing expansion.

“The expected sunsetting of the federal investment tax credit — which happily did not occur — really accelerated the market in 2016,” said Daisy Chung, Research Manager and lead author of the report. “But, without the spike, we saw upward growth from 2015 to 2017 repeated across most regions and market segments.”

SEPA solar capacity added

Now in its 11th year, the Utility Solar Market Snapshot is the only industry report based on interconnection data and market insights obtained directly from more than 400 utilities across the country, Chung said. This year’s edition drills into the signs of resilience — such as the doubling of community solar capacity — and potential challenges SEPA found amid concerns about market decline and uncertainty. (Please note, all figures in the report and this release are in alternating current (ac) unless otherwise noted as direct current (dc).)

attack-the-tariff-300x250

For example, a SEPA analysis shows that the solar tariffs enacted by the Trump administration in early 2018 will have minimal impact on near-term solar prices. But a more significant price increase could occur when the step-down in the 30-percent investment tax credit begins in 2020.

solar tariff stats

Five key data points

• Of the 42 gigawatts (GW) of solar that U.S. utilities have interconnected to the grid since 2007, 7.4 GW — 18 percent of the total — were added last year. Solar now represents, on average, 3 percent per month of all U.S. electricity generation.

• Non-residential solar — long the slow-moving, dormant sector of the U.S.market — took off in 2017, posting a 49-percent increase over 2016.

• Community solar more than doubled last year, from a cumulative capacity of 347 MW-dc in 2016 to 737 MW-dc in 2017. More than half of the new capacity for 2017 — 246 MW — is concentrated in one state, Minnesota.

• The drop in the federal corporate tax rate — from 35 percent to 21 percent — could put a damper on tax equity investment in utility-scale solar. Tax equity investment decreased about 11 percent, from $4.4 billion in 2016 to less than $4 billion in 2017.

• Utilities increasingly see solar as part of a portfolio of DERs with multiple customer and grid benefits. More than half of those responding to specific survey questions are interested in, planning or have deployed solar-plus-storage or advanced inverter projects.

The 2018 Utility Solar Market Snapshot is the first of three Snapshot reports based on data from SEPA’s 2018 Utility Survey. Upcoming reports will include the 2018 Utility Energy Storage Market Snapshot and the 2018 Utility Demand Response Market Snapshot.

— Solar Builder magazine