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.

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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

Details on DTE Energy’s plan to double renewable energy capacity over five years

DTE Energy

DTE Energy has submitted its 2018 Renewable Energy Plan to the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) proposing approximately 1,000 additional MW of carbon-free electricity from new wind and solar projects in Michigan scheduled to be completed by 2022. If approved, these new renewable energy projects would drive investment of more than $1.7 billion in Michigan and double DTE’s renewable energy capacity from 1,000 megawatts to 2,000 MW – enough clean energy to power over 800,000 homes.

The filing outlines DTE’s approach to Michigan’s 15 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) as well as its intent to offer a new voluntary renewable energy program specifically designed for large business customers seeking to reduce carbon emissions. This program will provide additional renewable resources beyond those proposed to meet the 15 percent RPS requirement and differs from DTE’s MIGreenPower voluntary program. The plan also includes the launch of a pilot program for battery storage technology aimed at improving the reliability of energy provided from wind and solar power.

“The plan we have filed takes another significant next step toward our goal of cutting carbon emissions by more than 80 percent by 2050 while continuing to deliver reliable and affordable power for our 2.2 million customers,” DTE Energy Chairman and CEO Gerry Anderson said. “Due to our substantial investments and use of renewable energy, DTE has already reduced its carbon emissions by nearly 25 percent by driving investments of approximately $2.5 billion over the last 10 years in Michigan’s renewable energy sector and adding 1,000 megawatts of wind and solar capacity – enough clean energy to power more than 450,000 homes.”

RELATED: Duke Energy proposes awesome solar rebate program in North Carolina 

Highlights of DTE’s plan

  • Bringing online the Pine River wind park later this year, and the Polaris wind park in 2019. Together, the parks will have the capability of generating 330 megawatts and will be DTE’s largest and most efficient wind parks to date.
  • Adding 300 megawatts of new wind capacity in 2020 to supply a new voluntary renewable energy program for large customers seeking to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Building two additional wind parks that will provide a combined 375 megawatts and begin operation in 2021 and 2022.
  • Installing approximately 15 megawatts of new Michigan-based solar capacity over the next three years, increasing DTE’s solar capacity by almost 25 percent over the next three years.

“Beyond this plan, DTE will continue to add additional renewable energy resources,” Anderson said. “Reducing our company’s carbon emissions and developing cleaner sources of energy is a key priority for us. This work will also bring positive economic impacts such as job creation and local community revenue.”

DTE studied the engineering and the economics of Michigan’s energy future for two years before announcing last year its initiative to reduce carbon emissions by more than 80 percent by 2050 – a timeframe that aligns with what scientists broadly have identified as necessary to help address climate change.

“We’ve concluded not only that the 80 percent reduction goal is achievable, it is achievable in a way that ensures Michigan’s power is safe, secure, affordable, reliable – and sustainable,” Anderson said. “There doesn’t have to be a choice between a healthy environment and a healthy economy, although the debate often gets framed that way. We can have both, if we invest in a smart way.”

By continuing to incorporate substantially more renewable energy, transitioning its 24/7 power sources from coal to natural gas, operating its zero-emission Fermi 2 power plant, and improving options for customers to save energy and reduce bills, DTE plans to reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030, and 75 percent by 2040 on the way to its ultimate goal in 2050. These plans define a long-term shift by DTE to produce over three-quarters of its power from renewable energy and highly efficient natural gas-fired power plants.

— Solar Builder magazine

Rethinking the grid: Southern Co. is building renewable, energy efficient communities with this Smart Neighborhood initiative

Southern Power Company

This may be a glimpse into the future: Southern Co. and its Alabama Power and Georgia Power subsidiaries have announced a Smart Neighborhood initiative that will provide customers with state-of-the-art home construction, distributed energy resources – including solar and battery energy storage – and smart home appliances and technologies.

The first-of-a-kind Smart Neighborhoods – located in Atlanta and suburban Birmingham, Alabama – will benefit customers through improved reliability, increased use of distributed energy resources and lower costs. These communities have the potential to further enable the smart grid and help the Southern Company system better meet customers’ evolving energy needs. These are the types of ideas we were talking about when we said utilities need to step up.

“In the rapidly changing energy landscape, we are focused on meeting customers’ current and future energy needs through cutting-edge research and technology,” said Southern Company Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kimberly S. Greene. “These collaborative research projects with Alabama Power, Georgia Power and our partners will deepen our understanding of how distributed energy resources interact with the electric grid and how emerging technologies improve customers’ lives.”

How it will work

Both projects simulate what the future may hold for the energy industry, and provide Southern Company and its subsidiaries information on how homes of the future will function. That information will lead to new programs, products and services for customers.

The Smart Neighborhood concept is the result of the Southern Company research and development team’s deep collaboration with Alabama Power and Georgia Power, including a supporting partnership with the Southern Company Energy Innovation Center. The companies collaborated with U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Electric Power Research Institute on the initiatives, and have partnered with leading homebuilders for the construction and sale of the communities’ homes.

The Holistic Home: We peer into the future of home energy generation, usage

The first Smart Neighborhood project was announced by Alabama Power and all 62 homes have been sold. Signature Homes is the community developer and is overseeing the construction and sale of the homes at the Reynolds Landing community at Ross Bridge in Hoover, Ala. Home construction is expected to be complete in the spring.

“The first homeowners have moved into our Smart Neighborhood and we are excited to provide those customers with advanced energy solutions that will influence services across our territory in the future,” said John Hudson, Alabama Power’s senior vice president of Marketing and Business Development. “Each home is a crystal ball for home-building and residential consumption. Along with our construction, technology and research partners, Alabama Power is among the leaders of energy innovation.”

The Alabama project features the Southeast’s first community-scale microgrid. It is comprised of solar panels, battery energy storage and a natural gas generator that supplements power from the existing electric grid.

Each home in the Smart Neighborhood is built with emerging energy-efficient building features, and equipped with leading-edge technology, including a high-efficiency heat pump, an intelligence home comfort system with an Infinity Touch thermostat, voice-activated security, smart locks, cameras, interconnected appliances, triple-pane windows, LED lighting and more.

Meanwhile, Georgia Power has partnered with PulteGroup to help develop the first Smart Neighborhood in Atlanta. The new homes will be located in Atlanta’s Upper West Side, one of the city’s most vibrant and popular areas. Altus at The Quarter will feature luxury townhomes with cutting-edge smart home technology.

“Building the future of energy in Georgia centers on our continued commitment to offer new, flexible products and services that meet the changing needs of our customers,” said Paul Bowers, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power. “This partnership with PulteGroup provides a unique opportunity for us to demonstrate how energy companies can collaborate with homebuilders and retail partners to better serve customers today while developing new opportunities for tomorrow.”

Each technology-enhanced home in the Georgia Power Smart Neighborhood will be served by Georgia Power with power supplemented by individual rooftop solar installations and in-home battery energy storage. Homes also will be equipped with the latest energy technologies such as optimal insulation for maximum efficiency, advanced heating and cooling systems and LED lighting. They will feature home automation, including smart thermostats, smart locks and voice control.

Construction is underway with the grand opening scheduled for later this year.

Information and data collected from the distributed energy resources will provide researchers valuable operational experience as the company continues to evaluate microgrids along with residential battery storage and rooftop solar. Information from the HVAC systems, heat pump water heaters and other technologies will help inform new programs and services for customers.

— Solar Builder magazine

Report: Indiana could save $2.3 billion via demand reduction strategies

Indiana utility renewable demand response

As utility data becomes more publicly available, the more innovative ideas and solutions can be proposed. Like this: A report issued by Indiana Advanced Energy Economy finds that a combination of demand reduction strategies could avoid or defer the need for new power plants, transmission lines, and distribution infrastructure across Indiana and save up to $2.3 billion for business and residential electricity customers.

The report, Potential for Peak Demand Reduction in Indiana, prepared for Indiana AEE by Demand Side Analytics, examines potential for savings from reducing peak demand using three different market strategies:

  1. Curtailing commercial and industrial electricity demand;
  2. Installing more smart thermostats across Indiana’s residential sector; and
  3. Deploying energy storage technologies.

Examining the impact of these strategies under scenarios representative of avoided costs in Indiana, the analysis shows that net benefits for electric ratepayers (total savings minus costs) range from $448 million to $2.3 billion over 10 years.

“There are ways to meet Indiana’s energy needs by reducing demand that are much lower cost than buying additional power or building expensive new power plants,” said Vince Griffin, executive director of Indiana Advanced Energy Economy, a state affiliate of national business association Advanced Energy Economy. “As Indiana plans for its energy future, regulators and utilities searching ways to bring down electricity costs in the state should take this report’s findings to heart and implement effective demand reduction programs.”

Why demand response

Demand response strategies, which shave peak loads or shift them to off-peak hours, can be cost-effective alternatives to costly construction of new generation resources that sit idle most of the year. Energy storage technologies like batteries achieve similar benefits by storing energy at times when it is plentiful for use during peak hours. The same strategies could save from 1,500 to 4,800 megawatts of electric capacity through 2027, significantly offsetting Indiana’s need for additional generating capacity over the next decade.

Demand reduction strategies are significantly less capital-intensive and more economic for meeting demand during peak hours than investing in traditional “peaker” power plants, which sit idle for most the year. Utility investments in electricity infrastructure are overwhelmingly driven by peak loads, with approximately 10% of infrastructure investments serving load for just 1% of the hours of the year.

“It’s simply good business to utilize advanced energy technologies and resources that reduce energy waste,” said Rick Counihan, Head of Energy Regulatory and Governmental Affairs at Nest Labs. “Increased adoption of smart thermostats across Indiana’s residential sector can not only help Hoosiers manage how much energy they use but, as importantly, when they use energy. Reducing energy usage when it is most expensive can drive significant cost savings for Indiana ratepayers.”
“Our analysis shows that reducing peak demand is a smart and cost-effective way for Indiana to meet the energy needs of its citizens,” said Jesse Smith, principal consultant for Demand Side Analytics. “With the right policies, demand reduction will allow both Indiana utilities and grid operators to meet capacity needs at lowest cost.”

At nearly 48,000 workers, advanced energy employs nearly twice as many people in Indiana as colleges and universities, more than machinery manufacturing, and approaching auto parts manufacturing, according to a report published by Indiana AEE in 2016 based on the latest 2015 data. At the time, advanced energy industry supported one out of every 50 workers in Indiana and was expected to grow 2% by the end of 2016.

— Solar Builder magazine