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

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

attack-the-tariff-300x250

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