Federal, state, private agencies partner to increase solar access nationwide

The Obama administration unveiled a new cross-government partnership this week to increase access to solar power, promote energy efficiency and build a more inclusive workforce. In collaboration with state agencies, the Clean Energy Savings for All Americans Initiative aims to bring 1 gigawatt (GW) of solar to low- and moderate-income families by 2020.

DOE wants your ideas about how to structure and evaluate its Community Solar Challenge. Public comment is due Aug. 2.

DOE wants your ideas about how to structure and evaluate its Community Solar Challenge. Public comment is due Aug. 2. (Artwork by DOE SunShot Initiative )

The new program builds on the successes of the Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative, introduced in 2011. SunShot works with private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, state and local governments and national laboratories to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with conventional energy sources by 2020.

DOE is joining with the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Veteran’s Affairs and the Environmental Protection Agency to make choosing solar an easier and more affordable option. The key components of the initiative will unlock financing mechanisms, bolster technical assistance for states and communities, drive innovation and scale up workforce training. These measures will enable more low- and moderate-income Americans to take advantage of the jobs that come with a transition to clean energy.

Accompanying executive actions
In addition to the launching Clean Energy Savings for All Americans, the administration is implementing several executive actions to support American communities in deploying renewable energy.

Programs to scale up Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, financing will allow homeowners to make energy improvements immediately and pay back the cost over time through their property taxes. Increased technical assistance will make it easier for low-income households to access hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for renewable energy investments. DOE and HUD will work with national laboratories to track the progress of deployment of solar energy systems on targeted households. 

DOE is developing a Community Solar Challenge that will award teams in dozens of communities up to $100,000 to develop innovative models to increase solar deployment and cut energy bills, in particular in low-income communities. Teams will build local capacity around the legal, technical, financial and administrative aspects of community solar programs and projects. The DOE SunShot Initiative has released a request for information to gather feedback and information on the structure of challenge. The deadline is Aug. 2.

The initiative also includes the sharing of best practices on how to finance and how to overcome barriers to creating healthier communities. Over the next months, summits on clean energy savings, community solar project financing and funding resources and training for vulnerable communities will convene across the country. You can keep up with these events and funding opportunities by subscribing to SunShot email updates newsletter.

Developing solar workforce
Solar jobs are growing 12 times faster than the rest of the economy, and the Obama administration hopes to train an additional 25,000 workers by 2020. To reach that goal, DOE has teamed up with the Solar Foundation to create the Solar Training Network. The network is designed to connect training providers, employers and job seekers to supply the skilled solar workforce the industry needs to continue to grow.

DOE is also implementing a community and workforce investment program to both create new employment opportunities and train low-income West Baltimore residents for jobs in the solar industry. The initiative will explore options to expand access to solar for renters and local individuals in the Baltimore area.

States, private sector get on board
More than 120 private, state, local and philanthropic sectors in 36 states are pledging to support Clean Energy Savings for All Americans. These new commitments represent $287 million in investment, and nearly 280 megawatts (MW) of community solar and low- and moderate-income solar deployment. Combined with previous commitments, this brings the total amount of commitments secured to more than $800 million in investment and more than 491 MW of solar power.

Rural electric cooperatives are among the partners committing to install community solar projects by the end of 2017. WAPA customer Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. is among the more than 90 member-owned, not-for-profit power providers in 25 states that have brought online community solar projects in the last year.

Utilities hoping to bring the benefits of renewable energy into their communities can join the National Community Solar Partnership. You can learn more about starting a utility community solar program from Community Solar FAQ and find information to encourage solar homes in your territory with Solar Energy Resources for Homebuilders.

Source: DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy via Green Power News, 7/19/16

WAPA congratulates SMUD for efficiency award

SMUD has two charging stations that can recharge most fast-charging electric vehicles in 30 minutes.

SMUD has two charging stations that can recharge most fast-charging electric vehicles in 30 minutes. (Photo by Sacramento Municipal Utility District)

Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SMUD) is among the agencies and individuals to be honored by the Alliance to Save Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. at its Evening with the Stars of Energy Efficiency awards dinner on Sept. 22 in Washington, D.C.

The annual awards celebrate individuals, companies, organizations, government programs and educational institutions that have made notable contributions to advance energy efficiency in their respective fields. SMUD is receiving the transportation award for 25 years of leadership and large-scale deployment of electric drive vehicles.

Whether a customer owns an electric vehicle or is thinking about buying one, the municipal utility offers information and resources to help make the decision easier. On SMUD’s website, customers can learn about charging options and links for finding public charging stations. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

SMUD introduced a special time-of-use rate in January 2016 that credits plug-in electric vehicle owners an additional 1.5¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for charging their vehicles between midnight and 6 a.m. every day, all year long. During those hours, participating households pay only 7.17¢ per kWh for their electricity. As part of the efforts to promote electric vehicles in its territory, SMUD also began offering a $300 rebate this year to customers who purchase or lease a plug-in electric vehicle.

“SMUD is honored to receive the Transportation award in recognition of our wide-ranging commitment to energy efficiency,” said Arlen Orchard, SMUD CEO and general manager. “We began supporting electric transportation solutions in the 1990s as a way to improve the Sacramento region’s air quality. From developing the first solar-powered charging station on the West Coast to launching an innovative rate program that rewards customers who charge their electric vehicles during off-peak hours, SMUD’s actions and leadership have helped drive the technology forward. We look forward to continuing these efforts as more of our customers turn to electric vehicles to save money and benefit the environment.”

As the utility industry continues to look for ways to adapt to changing technology and expectations, SMUD offers yet another example of programs and products that benefit the customer, community and power provider. WAPA is proud of our innovative customers and congratulates SMUD on its well-deserved recognition.

Source: Alliance to Save Energy, 6/27/16 

New report looks at utility business models for energy storage

Navigant Research You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Sunverge Energy, Inc. You are leaving WAPA.gov. have teamed up to produce a white paper highlighting opportunities to embrace energy storage in ways that benefit both public utilities and their customers.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the technical potential of rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV) in the United States represents the equivalent of 39 percent of current U.S. electricity sales. The capacity from solar panels, advanced batteries and other forms of distributed energy resources (DER) is likely to keep growing. Some in the industry see this trend as the beginning of the “utility death spiral.” There are optimists, however, who see the chance for utilities—especially publically owned utilities—to reinvent themselves and their customer relationships.

According to the report, Making Sense of New Public Power DER Business Models, advanced energy storage can optimize DER to provide value on either side of the meter. In three featured case studies, public utilities, including Sacramento Municipal Utility DistrictYou are leaving WAPA.gov. leveraged the diverse services energy storage can offer if coupled with state-of-the-art controls software. Smart storage applications proved to be the key to delivering win-win results such as improved reliability, more resilience and greater customer satisfaction.

Public power providers are uniquely positioned to explore new energy service delivery models that can turn the challenge of integrating DER into customer partnerships. You can learn more about innovative business models and up-and-coming technologies by downloading a free copy of Making Sense of New Public Power DER Business Models.

Source: Public Power Daily, 5/9/16

Western customers score high in customer satisfaction on annual study

When J.D. Power released its 2016 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study You are leaving Western's site., the list of eight U.S. electric utilities included Western customers.

(Art by JD Power)

(Art by JD Power)

The 17th annual study ranked utilities based on customer satisfaction by size and region. Omaha Public Power District You are leaving Western's site. (OPPD) rated highest in the Midwest Midsize category. Salt River Project You are leaving Western's site. (SRP) in Arizona outperformed other utilities in the Large West category and Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving Western's site. (SMUD) excelled in the West Midsize category. OPPD and SRP also ranked highest in last year’s study, the only two among the eight power providers to repeat their appearance on the list.

The other five electric utilities with highly satisfied business customers are:

  • Con Edison (East Large)
  • Met-Ed (East Midsize)
  • Ameren Missouri (Midwest Large)
  • Entergy Arkansas (South Large)
  • JEA (South Midsize)

Except for JEA, based in Jacksonville, Florida, these are all investor-owned utilities. “The public power utilities that have won the J.D. Power honors all exemplify this excellence in customer service,” said Sue Kelly, president and CEO of the American Public Power Association You are leaving Western's site. (APPA).

Focused on sustainability
OPPD works with more than 45,000 commercial and industrial (C&I) customers to help them improve energy efficiency and develop new renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and biomass. In an interview with APPA for Public Power Daily, Jim Krist, OPPD manager of key account sales and service, pointed to a heightened interest among business customers in sustainability and driving their own energy choices. “The customer continues to change the way we think, operate and serve,” he said.

OPPD has 10 account executives dedicated to servicing the utility’s largest C&I customers. These customers receive annual energy reviews and work with the utility on economic development issues. OPPD account executives and electric service designers consult with business customers on demand-side management programs to help them reduce energy demand and receive rebates.

Communicating proactively
Even a brief power outage can cost a business thousands of dollars—or worse—so providing timely, accurate information about outages and quickly restoring electric service strongly affects a utility’s rating.

SRP has introduced online and mobile-friendly apps to provide detailed power outage information to businesses, and to send power outage notifications and weather alerts to customers via email and text. Every business customer who contacts SRP to report an outage receives a follow-up call by the next business day. The utility uses the opportunity to educate them on how to use online outage map and reporting tools.

This aggressive approach has paid off in significant increases in the satisfaction scores. “And our customers are telling us how much they appreciate this proactive outreach,” Jennie King, the utility’s director of strategic energy management, told APPA.

SRP’s robust portfolio of 20 energy-efficiency programs is another reason the utility has ranked first in the West by J.D. Power for three consecutive years. Program offerings range from low- to no-cost options for limited-income residential customers to comprehensive programs for industrial clients.

Expanding customer engagement
Taking the proactive approach for keeping in touch with business customers figures heavily in SMUD’s business customer service strategy, too. Account representatives serve as trusted energy advisors to their assigned business customers, matching various utility programs with the specific needs of their clients.   The Sacramento utility has 67,000 contract accounts representing the 32,000 businesses in its service territory. Last year, the utility decided to ramp up its outreach by putting a C&I customer strategic plan in place. A staff training program aimed at engaging more business customers was a key part of the plan.

Rob Lechner, manager of SMUD’s commercial and industrial account solutions team, said the five-person team now averages 150 face-to-face meetings per week. Team members spend much of their time in the field, visiting the customers and getting to know them. The customer representatives bring a list of questions to in-depth sit-down meetings that might last more than an hour, Lechner explained. “We want customers to be our partners,” he said, and the first step is to understand those customers.

Study benchmarks
J.D. Power, a marketing information services firm, annually measures satisfaction among business customers of 102 targeted U.S. electric utilities that serve more than 25,000 business customers. The survey rates for overall satisfaction, calculated on a 1,000-point scale across six factors (in order of importance): power quality and reliability; corporate citizenship; price; billing and payment; communications; and customer service.

The 2016 results show overall satisfaction among electric utility business customers to be at its highest level in eight years, driven mainly by communications, corporate citizenship and price. John Hazen, director of energy practice at J.D. Power, observed that communication and corporate citizenship are important to businesses. “Business customers like to see their provider giving back, whether it’s through charities and civic organizations or through economic development such as buying locally and creating jobs,” he said.

Western congratulates Omaha Public Power District, Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Salt River Project for recognizing what their business customers want and delivering it.

Source: APPA Public Power Daily, 2/9/16

Greentech Media recognizes SMUD as grid innovator

Sacramento Municipal Utility District Redirecting to a non-government site (SMUD) was among the 20 companies to receive the Grid Edge 20 award Redirecting to a non-government site for contributions to the transformation of the U.S. electrical grid.

Sponsored by GreenTech Media Research, the award highlights energy-related businesses using new products, disruptive strategies and forward-looking vision to shift our traditional, centralized grid to a more distributed, responsive system. SMUD earned the award for implementing Space-Time Insight’s Redirecting to a non-government site (STI) geospatial and visual analytics software to improve the analysis and management of data from its smart grid devices.

Good-news-bad-news scenario
The project is part of SMUD’s SmartSacramento initiative to improve the reliability and efficiency of the grid and to give customers more control over their energy use. The first step was the installation of 630,000 new smart meters capable of two-way wireless communication, which allowed SMUD customers to see their daily and hourly energy use on the web. The meters also enabled the utility to remotely read use, and set the stage for smarter thermostats, home energy management systems, energy-efficient smart appliances and time-of-use (TOU) rates.

Customer reaction to the installation was overwhelmingly positive. “The business case for smart meters was based on operational efficiencies rather than energy savings, but the TOU rates can drive efficiency improvements,” explained Jim Parks, SMUD program manager for energy research and development. “In the pilot project, customers on TOU or CPP [critical peak pricing] rates, or both, were able to reduce their peak energy use by 6 to 25 percent during peak periods.”

SMUD also installed dozens of other intelligent grid-connected assets to provide data on the condition and performance of equipment to improve system reliability. All that data, however, came with a downside: figuring out how to incorporate it into grid decision-making. Traditional manual operation simply could not burrow through this mountain of data to realize the benefits. It was time to automate, and SMUD chose  STI’s geospatial and visual analytics technology.

Grid planning, beyond
The software platform visualizes and coordinates data from more than 30 different systems. A large “electronic wall map” in SMUD’s Distribution Operations Center displays the synthesized data as a common operational view of grid and asset health, weather, wind and fire conditions and power supply and demand, to name a few.

The electronic wall map in SMUD's operational center gives operations staff an overview of the grid right down to cameras like the one on the Meadowview-Mack  substation.

The electronic wall map in SMUD’s Distribution Operations Center gives operations staff an overview of the grid right down to cameras on grid assets like the Meadowview-Mack substation.

Managers and operators are now able to respond more quickly to outages, rapidly develop switching plans and make more informed decisions regarding equipment maintenance and investments. “This gives our operations staff the view they need of what’s happening on the grid, right down to zeroing in on cameras on substations or loading on individual feeders,” said Parks.

In addition to tying together many utility operations, the platform includes data links with state and federal firefighting agencies and water districts for coordinating emergency responses to fires and floods. It also pulls weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the utility’s fifteen weather stations. Managers can turn data on temperature forecasts into predictions of coming peak power demand, or transform wind-speed readings into dynamic line ratings.

Now that situational intelligence technology has proven its value in grid operations, other SMUD departments are showing an interest. The utility has launched a second phase of the system to meet some of these demands. Geospatial and visual analytics could be valuable for neighborhood design and transformer loading, customer demographics for new programs, vegetation analysis or understanding the impact of electric vehicles on single circuits. “Some of the departments have found uses for it that we didn’t anticipate, while some of the planned uses were less effective than we expected,” Parks acknowledged.

Stakeholders select awardees
Grid Edge 20 recognizes vision and innovation in the energy services and utility industries. A network of energy industry stakeholders, including the team of analysts at GreenTech Media Research nominate and vote on the awardees. Final award recipients were selected with input from Greentech Media’s Grid Edge Executive Council. Since its launch in the fall of 2013, the council has grown to more than 75 member companies. Duke Energy, Embertec, Enphase Energy, Electric Power Research Institute, SunEdison and 3M are the newest members.

Many of the awardees will be attending or presenting at Grid Edge Live 2015, Redirecting to a non-government site June 23-25, in San Diego. The conference covers issues surrounding grid modernization and customer and business model transformation.

Source: GreenTech Media via Public Power Daily, 4/30/15

Presentations Now Online from 33rd Utility Energy Forum

We enjoyed meeting all the customers who attended the Utility Energy Forum Redirecting to a non-government site last week—your participation made the event entertaining as well as educational. Special thanks go out to sponsors Sacramento Municipal Utility District Redirecting to a non-government site, City of Palo Alto Utilities Redirecting to a non-government site, Imperial Irrigation District Redirecting to a non-government site, Riverside Public Utilities Redirecting to a non-government site, Roseville Electric Redirecting to a non-government site and Silicon Valley Power Redirecting to a non-government site for their hard work putting together a program that addressed regional utilities’ most pressing concerns.

Now you can revisit the presentations to pick up some tips for your own programs, or find out what you missed if you were unable to join us.  You can also learn more about the UEF sponsors and exhibitors.

Attendees who didn’t fill out the paper survey at the forum can still complete an online survey Redirecting to a non-government site. Your two cents worth helps the planning committee make the UEF better each year.

Circle May 14-16, 2014, on your calendar so you don’t miss next year’s Utility Energy Forum. Western customers in the Rocky Mountain Region, will want to save Oct. 8-10, 2013, for the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange Redirecting to a non-government site.

And if you don’t have an event in your region that brings together utility colleagues to share challenges and solutions, contact your Energy Services representative and get one started!  In the meantime, consider joining Linkedin Group Discussions Redirecting to a non-government site.

Western customers show up in DOE Top 10 Utility Green Power Programs

Public power utilities, including several Western customers, scored well in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s “Top 10” rankings of utility green power programs for 2010.

Ranked by renewable energy sales, Sacramento Municipal Utility District sold the fourth largest amount of renewable energy (kWh/year) in the nation (including investor-owned utilities). SMUD was the only public power utility to crack the top 10 in total number of customer participants in green power programs, ranking fourth in that category as well.

Using information provided by utilities, NREL developed rankings of utility green power programs for 2010 in a variety of categories. Other Western customers appearing in the Top 10 included:

NREL recently added the category of community solar programs to its ratings, giving Western customers another chance to shine. Holy Cross Energy, SMUD, St. George, Utah, and United Power placed sixth through eighth. Community solar programs allow customers to purchase a share of a solar system developed in their community and receive the benefits of the energy that is produced by their share.

The Green Power assessment was performed by NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center (SEAC), which integrates technical and economic analyses and leads NREL’s efforts in applying clean energy technologies to both national and international markets.

You’ve Won a New Home… Sort of: Six Years of Home Energy Makeover Contests

Ed Thomas, EGIA

The Home Energy Makeover contest is not about the winners—it’s all about showing the homeowners who don’t win what can be done to lower energy bills.

The program started in Montrose, Colo., and has spread across the country. This spring, Sacramento Municipal Utility District will hold its first contest. In Atlanta, Ga., a contest is being funded with Recovery dollars. In November, a contest in Pennsylvania will show what can be done to improve the performance of a house less than 2 years old.

Pick a typical home and family so that other consumers can relate. The makeover is based on building science, so the recommendations are not random. Expect to take about six to eight months to plan, recruit sponsors, promote the contest and screen entrants. Allow another three to four months to make improvements and publicize results—educating consumers is an ongoing task before, during and after the contest.

At the beginning of the contest, the website should answer the question, “How do I enter?” Then, the contest site needs to evolve to answer “How do I do that in my home?” Post the case studies of completed projects, along with links to drive the visitors to the contractors who worked on them.

The costs of mounting a Home Energy Makeover contest are fixed around administration, technical oversight and promotion. The variable costs are determined by the number of makeover winners, the value of homes and the cost of processing paper entries.

Community projects highlighted on Day 2 of forum

Presentations focused on improving energy efficiency at the community level, as the Utility Energy Forum moved into its second day.

Streetlighting project
The City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) is conducting a pilot program to evaluate the potential energy savings and lighting quality of LED and induction streetlights. Project Manager Christine Tam explained that the municipal utility operates and maintains 6,300 high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps ranging from 70 to 250 watts. The city streetlights are on a five-year replacement plan.

LED and induction technologies both have life spans of 100,000 hours compared to 24,000 hours for HPS, reducing their operation costs. A further advantage LED has over the other lamps is that it contains no mercury.

The city installed alternative lighting in three test areas—one with 20 LED lamps, a second with 30 LEDs and a third area with induction lights. As part of the evaluation, residents and city workers offered feedback on their opinion about the light quality. In Palo Alto and other cities that have installed LEDs, some residents complain about bright white light. City workers, however, often prefer it to dimmer HPS lights. Installing dimmers on LED streetlights can mitigate complaints, but adds to the cost.

The results of the pilot program indicate that for Palo Alto, LEDs are marginally cost-effective, especially where the lights are new installs. Tam points out that the city is calculating the savings based on its own avoided cost of $.08 per kWh. A city that pays a utility for electricity will probably have greater savings. CPAU expects to release a full report on the lighting pilot this summer.

Working with ARRA funding
The challenges of using funding from the American Recover and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was the subject of a presentation by Tara Vogel, renewable energy analyst for Nevada State Energy Office.

As exciting as it is for energy agencies to have access to funding, meeting Federal regulations in addition to state and internal provisions can slow implementation. Many rules are still under review for exceptions, and vendors may resist buying materials until procurement requirements are settled.

Even the so-called “shovel-ready” projects may hit stumbling blocks. The State Energy Office had worked on many retrofit projects on schools with NV Energy. When some districts realized that Federal money was available, they asked to change their proposals to stretch the dollars further. “They had no idea of the paperwork that was involved in changing the project specifications,” said Vogel. 

Nevertheless, Nevada is charging forward on ARRA projects—ahead of schedule, in some cases. Panel moderator Janis Erickson of Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) observed that the ARRA era is new territory for energy-efficiency programs, and utilities and municipalities must be flexible and ready to learn.

Partner with your local community college
That sentiment was echoed by Sandy Kirschenmann, Vice Chancellor, Los Rios Community College District in the Sacramento area. Los Rios has a long-standing partnership with SMUD, most recently focusing on developing curriculums around the skills needed to install smart grid and renewable technologies.

Kirschenmann urged utilities to reach out to local community colleges to supply the training component necessary for many ARRA grants. “Community colleges, like ARRA, are all about jobs, jobs, jobs,” she said.

Contacting the president or chancellor of the college is the most important step a utility can take. “The presidents are very in tune with the needs of their communities, and they are always looking for ways to keep their curriculums current and relevant,” Kirschenmann said. “The president will take your call.”

 She also advised finding an advocate on the teaching staff who is developing the training programs. Sometimes, the utility representative becomes that person. Scott Terrell of Truckee Donner Public Utility District told the audience that, after 25 years of developing water and energy conservation programs for utilities, he had started teaching classes at the new community college in Truckee.

After establishing contact with the community college, utilities can bring economic development agencies, workforce investment entities and advisory boards into the partnership.

Above all, Kirschenmann concluded, be tolerant of ambiguity. “ARRA money rolled out very fast and things change from day to day,” she said. “The utilities that can respond to those changes will emerge as the real leaders.”