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).)


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 — 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

SEPA explores the massive solar, storage opportunity in Massachusetts in new report

massachusetts solar regulation

The Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) and ScottMadden released their latest report in SEPA’s 51st State Perspective series: “Massachusetts: A Great Clean Energy Story – DERs and the Next Chapter,” which explores the potential for Massachusetts to deploy significantly more clean energy.

Massachusetts has been a long leader in the deployment of clean energy and has demonstrated a strong commitment to reducing greenhouse gases. The Commonwealth’s approach to integrating clean energy has included a combination of policies such as renewable portfolio standards, capacity and generation targets for specific technologies, an energy efficiency resource standard, as well as solar and other incentive programs. Additionally state policy makers have set targets for solar PV, storage, and electric vehicles, resulting in high penetrations of renewables. The SEPA-ScottMadden report summarizes the legislative and regulatory actions that are contributing to further integration of distributed energy resources (DERs) as customers adopt them.

Legislative and other initiatives driving energy market transformation in the state include:

• Policies such as the Green Communities Act of 2008 and the Energy Efficiency Resources Standard, which have contributed to Massachusetts’ position as the leading state in energy efficiency for several consecutive years
• Revenue decoupling in 2008 to promote energy efficiency investments
• Net metering since 1982 and the increase of caps (% capacity in MW) over the years
• The ability for utilities to earn a return on energy efficiency investments


Compared to other states such as California, Illinois and New York, the Commonwealth’s approach to advancing DERs has been far less aggressive. These states have placed an emphasis on the value that DERs can provide to the distribution grid that goes beyond their renewable characteristics through various proceedings and pilots to more fully integrate and optimize DERs. Whereas Massachusetts’ focus has been on a variety of policies to advance clean energy and reduction of GHG, which has resulted in high penetrations of renewable energy resources, but it has not focused on upgrading infrastructure, deploying AMI, or optimizing DERs in the way that other states have.

While the Commonwealth’s progress to date on advancing clean energy, increasing economic development, and reducing impacts of GHG emissions is quite impressive, questions remain about whether recent legislative and regulatory initiatives will enable innovation to support further DER deployment. The lack of AMI and related customer-side infrastructure, as well as limited rate options, make further DER deployment and integration uncertain.

Co-author Sharon Thomas, Senior Analyst at the Smart Electric Power Alliance, added, “Massachusetts’ nation-leading role in energy efficiency is very impressive. However, demand-side resources are not prominently prioritized in current regulatory and legislative actions. We will have to wait and see if the Commonwealth’s current business models and structures will support continued growth.

“The focus in Massachusetts has been on the integration of clean energy and the reduction of GHG, which has resulted in high penetrations of renewables. To date, however, the same focus has not been placed on upgrading physical infrastructure (e.g., AMI) and changing the utility business model to drive integration and optimization of DERs,” adds Cristin Lyons, partner and energy practice leader at ScottMadden.

— Solar Builder magazine

SEPA: Community solar capacity doubled in 2017, driven by third-parties

smart electric power alliance

Community solar capacity in the United States more than doubled between 2016 and 2017, from 347 megawatts (MW) at the end of 2016, to 734 MW at the end of 2017. At present, 228 utilities in 36 states have active community solar programs. Those figures are part of the findings in a new report — “Community Solar Program Design Models” — from the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA).

In addition to providing current figures on the expansion of community solar, the “Design Models” report covers lessons learned from existing projects, and a basic “decision tree” tool aimed at helping utilities and other developers ask the right questions for successful projects. The report includes research findings developed in collaboration with the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA).

Key takeaways

• In 2015, utilities administered 60 percent of all community solar programs, versus 40 percent for third-party organizations. That split has since flipped. Third parties now account for 67 percent of community solar programs, versus about 33 percent for utilities.

• The average subscription rate for community solar projects is 83 percent; with subscription rates for third party-owned community solar over 90 percent. Subscription success depends on a range of program design elements, but a project’s financial value proposition remains a major driver.

• Utilities are starting to explore the use of community-scale, distributed solar as a grid asset for improved reliability and grid support services. In Minster, a community-based project combining solar and storage has allowed the town to generate four separate value streams from a single project.

• Many of the community solar projects in service are targeted at low-to-moderate income customers, renters and residential customers who live in multifamily buildings. In the past, these customers have been unable to access the benefits of solar because they don’t own their roofs, or if they do, their roofs cannot support solar.


— Solar Builder magazine

Report: Utilities still have a lot of electric vehicle planning to do

electric vehicle infrastructure

Amid rising predictions of the accelerating adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) across the country, a new report from the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) finds that many U.S. utilities are still in the earliest stages of EV programs and activities. Based on a survey of 486 utilities the report, “Utilities and Electric Vehicles: Evolving to unlock grid value,” states that nearly 75 percent were either in the early stages of planning for EV market growth or had yet to start developing strategies or programs. The utilities surveyed provide power to about 70 percent of all residential, commercial, and industrial customers in the United States.

“Utilities have a key role to play in EV market growth, as providers of ‘fuel’ — electricity — as a platform for charging infrastructure, and as a leader in standards development and consumer education,” said Erika Myers, SEPA’s Director of Research and lead author on the report. “Yet, our research shows that the situation right now is similar to what we saw with the growth of distributed solar. If predictions are correct, many utilities will be caught unprepared, with few ready to take full advantage of this new demand by leveraging EVs as a grid asset.”

Key findings

• Analysts now forecast that EV energy use could rise from a few terawatt-hours (TWh) a year in 2017 to at least 118 TWh and as high as 733 TWh by 2030. These forecasts are the equivalent of the average annual power consumption of 9 million to 68 million U.S. homes, respectively.

• With the utilities surveyed classified as either in an Early, Intermediate or Late Stage of EV program development, only 3 percent were in the Late Stage, while 23 percent were Intermediate and 74 percent were Early. (See Figure 1 below.)

SEPA EV utilities

• Larger investor-owned utilities (often as a result of regulatory or legislative mandates) were more likely to be in the Late Stage, while municipal utilities and electric cooperatives serving smaller customer bases tended to be classified as Intermediate or Early.

• Regulatory action related to EVs and charging infrastructure remains dispersed and uneven. Regulatory filings are clustered primarily in states with high numbers of EVs or pro-EV policies, and include dockets on utility programs associated with Intermediate or Late stages. Utility ownership of EV charging systems is a particular point of discussion among regulators.

• To promote the development of robust EV strategies, utilities should collaborate with stakeholders across the industry; mitigate and manage grid impacts of EV adoption; and share information and best practices to cut the time and cost of new EV programs.

The report also highlights examples of utility programs across the country, reflecting different stages of EV program development. San Diego Gas & Electric has one of the the highest total number of EV programs and activities accounted for in the research. The utility’s Power Your Drive program allows customers in apartments and condominiums, or at businesses, to access charging stations that use an EV rate that is based on actual, day-ahead hourly pricing. Customers can use a phone app to enter their time preferences, giving them the option to save money by charging during the lowest-price hours of the day.

— Solar Builder magazine