Arizona utility launches program to install solar on customer houses at no cost

APS Arizona utility

Arizona utility APS has launched a new program, APS Solar Communities, to make renewable energy more accessible. Designed specifically for limited- and moderate-income customers, APS Solar Communities approved participants agree to have a rooftop solar system installed at no cost. Customers then begin receiving a monthly $30 bill credit from APS while contributing to the company’s 50 percent clean-energy portfolio. APS serves about 2.7 million people in 11 of Arizona’s 15 counties, and is the Southwest’s foremost producer of clean, safe and reliable electricity.

APS is collaborating with Arizona-based solar installers Arizona Solar Concepts, Discover Energy Solutions, Harmon Solar, Sunny Energy and Southface Solar on this program to put rooftop solar systems on qualifying customers’ residences. The systems will be maintained by APS – an approach modeled on the APS Solar Partner program and designed during the company’s 2016 rate review process. Participating single-family residential customers will receive $360 per year in monthly bill credits for 20 years, saving $7,200 per household during the life of the program.

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“Our customers, community and economy, deserve innovative energy programs, and that’s exactly what Solar Communities delivers,” said Marc Romito, APS Director of Customer Technology. “With an investment of $10 million to $15 million per year for the next three years, we look forward to seeing some of our customers, who otherwise wouldn’t have access to solar, receive the benefits of renewable energy.”

Who qualifies?

The Solar Communities program will install solar systems on single-family houses with west- and southwest-facing roofs, which offer the greatest potential to generate energy during the late-afternoon and early-evening hours between 3 and 8 p.m. when customers use the most electricity.

“The solar panels installed under this program will be facing southwest and west to produce energy when customers need it most,” said Kent Walter, APS Manager of Customer Technology. “This program also will help us conduct research on integrating more renewable energy without compromising reliability. Solar Communities creates an option for more customers to go solar, while generating new projects for our local installation partners bringing positives on many levels.”

To qualify for APS Solar Communities, single-family households must be certified limited-income (at or below 200 percent of federal poverty level), or moderate-income (below 100 percent of median household income in Arizona). Other qualifying factors include roof size, orientation and structural integrity to accommodate a system. The size of residential systems will range from 4 to 8 kilowatts.

— Solar Builder magazine

Five ways to modernize the U.S. electric power grid via Advanced Energy Economy

Advanced Energy Economy

Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) and Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum (CRES Forum) released a policy paper outlining five recommendations to modernize the U.S. electric power grid. By unleashing advanced energy investment, encouraging innovation in the electricity sector, and providing more affordable energy options for all consumers, there are opportunities for Congress to expand our economy and invest in new energy resources. AEE and CRES Forum offer these recommendations for consideration in an effort to accomplish key eco-nomic and energy goals for the U.S.

The five recommendations embrace different technologies and innovations while also moving toward a more clean, secure, and affordable grid. These ideas include:

• Streamline Federal Permitting for Advanced Energy Projects
• Encourage Grid Planners to Consider Alternatives to Transmission Investment
• Allow Energy Storage and Energy Efficiency to Compete with Additional Generation
• Allow Large Customers to Choose their Electricity Sources
• Allow Utilities and Consumers to Benefit from Cloud Computing Software

RELATED: How a transparent, modern grid properly values solar, DER

“We see several ways Congress can drive market-based solutions that will drive investment and innovation in the economy while bringing affordable energy options to all Americans,” said Dylan Reed, Head of Congressional Affairs for Advanced Energy Economy. “Advanced energy already represents a major part of our economy as a $200 billion industry supporting more than 3 million jobs across the United States. These ideas can help drive even more economic and job growth while saving consumers money to put back into their wallets.”

”CRES supports an all-of-the-above strategy when it comes to energy. We believe that these market-based solutions offer an opportunity for all Americans to benefit from clean energy tech-nology and policies designed to encourage energy innovation, energy efficiency, and energy stor-age,” said CRES Forum Director of Policy and Advocacy Charles Hernick. “Our hope is that this guide provides energizing ideas for clean energy advocates, thought leaders, legislators, and think tanks alike. We see the value for consumers, businesses, and governments to engage in thoughtful discussion around these topics. These grid modernization strategies can make a differ-ence for years to come by providing affordable, reliable, secure, and clean energy solutions and advancing America’s energy economy.”

The opportunity for increased modernization across every state leads to lower energy costs and increased choice for consumers, while spurring investment and job creation for all advanced en-ergy resources across communities nationwide.

— Solar Builder magazine

FPL Energy update: Four new solar plants coming online, battery-storage pilots underway

Florida solar power

Florida Power & Light Company started construction on four new solar power plants this week, adding to the 14 major solar power plants it already operates and more than 200 smaller solar installations, totaling more than 935 megawatts of universal solar capacity currently powering customers.

In addition, FPL and other NextEra Energy companies are actively researching and testing battery-storage technologies to study a variety of potential benefits ranging from grid stabilization to improved solar integration. Currently, NextEra Energy companies operate a total of approximately 140 megawatts of batteries with more than 150 megawatt-hours of storage capacity.

Earlier this year, FPL announced the first-of-its-kind large-scale application of “DC-coupled” batteries in the country – a 4-megawatt/16-megawatt-hour storage system located at the FPL Citrus Solar Energy Center in DeSoto County – along with the nation’s largest solar-plus storage system – a 10-megawatt/40-megawatt-hour battery-storage project located at the FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center in Charlotte County.

The four new plants, which are expected to be operational by early 2019, are:

• FPL Interstate Solar Energy Center, St. Lucie County
• FPL Miami-Dade Solar Energy Center, Miami-Dade County
• FPL Pioneer Trail Solar Energy Center, Volusia County
• FPL Sunshine Gateway Solar Energy Center, Columbia County

“Florida is leading the nation in implementing solar energy affordably,” said Eric Silagy, FPL’s president and CEO. “FPL is among the cleanest energy providers in the nation not because of governmental mandates or requirements, but because we’ve been committed to making smart in-vestments in clean energy technologies for years. And we’ve proven that it’s possible to be both clean and reliable while keeping our customers’ electric bills among the lowest in the nation.”

FPL projects that solar will outpace coal and oil combined as a percentage of the company’s energy mix by the year 2020. FPL is aiming to have approximately 10 million solar panels in operation by 2022 and will be more than halfway to its goal once these four newest plants are completed.

Each of the four new solar plants will have a capacity of 74.5 megawatts for a total of nearly 300 megawatts. In addition to the enormous environmental benefits, FPL’s four new solar power plants are expected to produce estimated net lifetime savings of more than $40 million for FPL customers through fuel and other savings.

FPL Interstate Solar Energy Center

The newest solar power plant coming to St. Lucie County will join three others along the Treas-ure Coast that began serving FPL customers earlier this year – the FPL Loggerhead Solar Energy Center (St. Lucie County); FPL Indian River Solar Energy Center (Indian River County); and FPL Blue Cypress Solar Energy Center (Indian River County).

FPL Miami-Dade Solar Energy Center

FPL plans to add more than 1 million solar panels across Miami-Dade in the coming years, starting with the FPL Miami-Dade Solar Energy Center located off Krome Avenue in southwest Miami-Dade County.

“Resiliency is one of Miami-Dade County’s top priorities and these solar projects are one of the ways the County is partnering with the business community to address our sustainability,” said Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo, Jr. “I applaud FPL’s commitment to generate more solar power in Miami-Dade County and for being a partner to build smarter for the future of all our residents.”

FPL Pioneer Trail Solar Energy Center

Known for its beaches and Daytona International Speedway (where FPL operates one of the largest solar installations at any sporting venue in the U.S.), Volusia County will soon be home to a new 74.5-megawatt solar power plant.

FPL Sunshine Gateway Solar Energy Center

Located near the intersection of Interstates 10 and 75 near Florida’s northern border, the FPL Sunshine Gateway Solar Energy Center will give residents and visitors traveling these roads a glimpse of a major solar energy operation at work. Once completed, the solar energy center will be visible from Interstate 75 southbound and Interstate 10 westbound.

— Solar Builder magazine

MCE ready to pay out more than $1.8 million in net metering payments

MCE Clean Energy

MCE Clean Energy’s annual cash-out process for rooftop solar customers is currently underway, offering more than $1.8 million in check payments to purchase the excess solar electricity generated by customers.

“We’re proud to support over 10,000 solar customers in the Bay Area, and we’re grateful to them for adding 100% renewable power to our community energy supply,” said Dawn Weisz, CEO of MCE. “Over the last five years, NEM program recipients have included local schools and public agencies, like cities and fire stations. It’s rewarding to see so many customers get a return on their environmental investment.”

MCE’s Net Energy Metering (NEM) program compensates solar customers at the full retail rate plus an extra penny per kilowatt-hour for excess electricity generated. A meter tracks the net difference between the amount of electricity their solar panels produce and the amount of electricity used during each billing month. When the panels produce more electricity than is used on-site, customers receive a credit on their bill.

Most customers with solar in California are required to forfeit any surplus credits on their account each year through a “true-up” process, although some are entitled to receive a minimal payment at lower wholesale rates. MCE’s NEM program offers several innovative features, allowing customers who earn credits of $100 or more to cash out their full credit balance or simply roll the credits over into the following year — up to a maximum of $5,000. Customers with a credit below $100 will have their credit automatically rolled over.

Customers also have the option to transfer their credits to MCE programs that serve disadvantaged communities, like our Low-Income Solar program. For the 2012-2019 fiscal years, MCE allocated $345,000 toward low-income solar rebates and partners with GRID Alternatives’ Energy for All program to offer $900 rebates to low–income customers who install solar panels. Program participants have saved an estimated $2 million+ on their monthly utility bills.

— Solar Builder magazine

How a Virginia Tech researcher plans to use smart inverters to change the grid

grid probe smart inverters

The U.S. power grid, after faithfully delivering electricity to our neighborhoods for generations, is facing significant changes to how it operates — thanks to solar installations, wind farms, new energy storage systems and electric vehicles. As utilities meet the challenges of incorporating distributed energy sources on the low- and medium-voltage grids, however, they are hindered by incomplete knowledge.

“Limited instrumentation and their sheer size has kept a full picture of distribution grids out of focus,” said Vassilis Kekatos, an assistant professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Kekatos and his team hit upon a novel technique called grid probing to generate the information needed about what is often called the world’s largest machine. Their pioneering process engages smart inverters — devices that convert the direct current output of renewable sources into the alternating current used by consumers — outside their intended function.

For this effort, Kekatos, who specializes in power systems and smart grids, was awarded the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award.

attack-the-tariff-300x250

The state of the grid

Today’s residential electricity networks are sprawling configurations and reconfigurations of decades-old infrastructure strung through a patchwork of smart updates. A utility company may own 3,000 feeders, each of which transfers power from substations to thousands of nodes. Half of those nodes may be outfitted with smart meters, but those are only sampled hourly.

To accomplish any meaningful grid-wide optimization, we need to know the power consumed or generated at every node, the line and transformer parameters, and the grid layout — all in real time, said Kekatos.
“Utility companies do not have information this detailed,” he said. “But we must acquire it to bring about the smart grids of the future.”

Grid probing explained

Kekatos plans to close the information gap with an original and potentially transformative solution he calls grid probing.

“Grid probing casts smart inverters in a second role,” explained Kekatos. “This is in addition to their standard conversion and control functionality.”

Smart inverters are found in solar panels, energy storage devices, and electric vehicles and come with unprecedented capabilities in sensing, actuation, and communication. Kekatos wants to use them for learning tasks as well. He plans to direct smart inverters to inject a short burst of power through the grid, eliciting additional grid readings at the inverter meter. By comparing “probed” voltage responses with baseline voltages, he expects to discover non-metered loads and unknown network parameters.

The power injections will be minimally invasive, causing no harm, but could yield significant information for understanding the nonlinear behavior of power grids.

Kekatos and his team will combine data from the grid probing with data from existing smart metering and grid sensing. Coupling power system modeling with data analytics, they plan to map the connectivity and line parameters of the distribution networks.

Outreach and education

All CAREER awards have an educational component and Kekatos has designed an integrated approach. Undergraduate students are actively involved in this research via grid visualization and cross-validation tasks. The students will also work with graduate students in testing and cross-validating grid learning schemes.
Kekatos has designed a new graduate-level course on power distribution systems with emphasis on multi-phase analysis, optimization, and learning.

— Solar Builder magazine