New solar learning videos target local code officials, other building professionals

The United States is on track to install 4 million residential solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays by 2020. Ensuring that these installations meet current codes and standards is the job of building and electrical inspectors. To help code officials, architects, builders and solar installers keep up with the latest solar codes and safety requirements, Interstate Renewable Energy Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. (IREC) has added new informational videos to its suite of training resources.

In just a few short years, the number of residential solar installs in the US has increased exponentially.

In just a few short years, the number of residential solar installs in the US has increased exponentially. (Artwork by Interstate Renewable Energy Council)

IREC partnered with the International Association of Electrical Inspectors You are leaving WAPA.gov. (IAEI) and the International Code Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. (ICC) to develop resources for code officials to learn the key aspects of solar technology related to their trade. The educational videos target a broad audience by highlighting the inspection process. Code officials who have experience inspecting solar installations will be reminded of important details of the process. Inspectors who are new to solar PV will be introduced to essential aspects of the inspection and referred to more detailed training.

“Officials involved in the planning, inspection and permitting of residential solar installations now have access to solar training and education in their office, at home and in the field,” says IREC Director of Workforce Development Laure-Jeanne Davignon. “The wide variety of tools allows code officials new to solar and experienced professionals to learn in the format they choose: in-person, online, printable documents or videos.”

IAEI CEO David Clements called the videos a “must-see” and an excellent resource to educate code officials and inspectors working in the field on residential solar installations. “Training from the NEC® You are leaving WAPA.gov. (National Electrical Code), along with other codes and standards, has become a critical combination to ensure a safe installation,” he stated in a press release. “Knowledge and knowing how to apply it will ensure a code compliant installation.”

ICC and IAEI regional chapters have begun hosting one-day trainings where code officials can learn the steps of accurate, consistent solar permit plan review. The trainings focus on the pre-inspection work of reviewing and approving the plan. To complement what they learn in the class, or as an introduction beforehand, participants can watch two new brief videos on the details of residential solar inspection. Residential Solar Inspection Best Practices Part 1: RooftopYou are leaving WAPA.gov. and Residential Solar Inspection Best Practices Part 2: Ground Level You are leaving WAPA.gov. both run a little over four minutes. Professionals can take a deeper dive into field inspection practices in a self-paced online trainingYou are leaving WAPA.gov. All classes and resources are free to participants as part of the Department of Energy SunShot Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP) program.

More than 5,000 professionals have engaged in the PV Online Training since it became available in 2012. The new in-person plan review course is being very well received, too, with more than 2,500 participants to date. Evaluations from participants have applauded the hands-on approach to the material and the way it connects the different aspects of inspection to each other and to real-life scenarios.

For more information on these training opportunities, contact IREC at 518-621-7379.

Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, 9/13/17

Upper Great Plains taps South Sioux City for Administrator’s Award

WAPA Administrator Mark Gabriel will present WAPA’s prestigious Administrator’s Award to South Sioux City, Nebraska, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Oct. 18 at the Delta Hotels in South Sioux City.  The presentation is part of 2017 National Bioenergy Day, You are leaving WAPA.gov. an event that will be attended by local, state and federal officials and high-ranking industry representatives. Gabriel will also deliver the keynote address, “The Importance of Renewable Energy Diversification,” at Bioenergy Day. The event will also include a tour of the new Green Star Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. gasifier power plant.

Despite its small size—a population just over 13,000—South Sioux City has consistently delivered innovation along with affordable, reliable power year after year, warranting the honor the award confers on a WAPA customer. But these accomplishments feel almost secondary to the vision that made them happen. South Sioux City is well known among its peers and many other WAPA customers for being exceptionally forward thinking and tenacious at finding and leveraging win-win partnerships.

Leading in renewables
South Sioux City is pursuing clean, low-carbon electricity with a unique mix of projects.

A 2.3-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic array is only the latest example of the town’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. The 21-acre solar park began operation in January and generates the equivalent of 5 percent of the city’s total electricity needs. South Sioux City also recently selected a firm to build 15 MW of new wind power and signed an agreement to begin receiving generation from it in 2018. Both the wind and the solar projects are public-private partnerships.

South Sioux City’s Solar Park: 2.3-megawatt array (1,200 panels) located on a 21-acre solar park south of the city, alongside C Avenue. The array generates enough energy to provide 5 percent of South Sioux City’s electrical needs.

South Sioux City’s Solar Park: 2.3-megawatt array (1,200 panels) located on a 21-acre solar park south of the city, alongside C Avenue. The array generates enough energy to provide 5 percent of South Sioux City’s electrical needs. (Photo by Nebraskans for Solar)

In a region where agriculture and related businesses are the leading industries, biomass represents an energy resource that South Sioux City has captured through different projects. Three major food processing plants divert animal, grain and other wastes to an anaerobic digester that extracts methane from the stream and feeds it into the natural gas pipeline. The nearby Siouxland Ethanol Plant You are leaving WAPA.gov. displaces up to 9 percent of its natural gas needs for ethanol production with landfill gas from the LP Gill landfill.

The Scenic Park campground was the site of a pilot program in 2015, using a gasifier woody biomass system to generate 50 kilowatts of electricity from wood waste from storm damage. The unit was so successful that South Sioux City entered into an agreement with Green Star Energy to build a 3-MW gasifier. The new power plant will take city and industrial waste wood and dead and dying trees destined for the landfill and convert it into electricity.

Another potential project with Green Star Energy shows that South Sioux City has not lost sight of the tried-and-true renewable resources. The partners are seeking funding to build an innovative hydropower generator along the Missouri River that flows through the south end of the city. The run-of-river turbine design resembles a boat dock, would be safe for fish and aquatic animals and could produce enough electricity to save South Sioux City about $450 each day.

Conserve, reduce, manage
Energy innovation in South Sioux City is not limited to developing new resources. Planning and wise use are just as important to creating a cleaner, sustainable energy supply.

When peak demand needs to be curtailed, the city takes a two-pronged approach. First, a major industrial load voluntarily ramps down its demand by 11 percent to save not only its own energy costs but the energy costs for the city as a whole. On the residential side, the municipal utility has placed demand meters into service to control peak demand from air conditioner use. Both strategies have helped the community to contain electric costs.

South Sioux City has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities, and made improvements to systems such as lighting and heating and cooling, to save energy.

South Sioux City has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities, and made improvements to systems such as lighting and heating and cooling, to save energy. (Photo by Ammodramus)

The municipal utility has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities to identify energy-saving opportunities. Improvements included adding variable speed drives, converting street and signal lighting to LED and installing LED office lighting. Energy-efficient heating and cooling measures and practices have also been implemented in city buildings.

To address the need for backup support and electric demand relief during peak times, the city is designing a 5-MW, state-of-the-art natural gas-powered generating station. Excess generation from the unit will be offered to the Southwest Power Pool You are leaving WAPA.gov. markets.

Practicing stewardship
South Sioux City was the first city in Nebraska to implement a paperless city council. In addition to reducing environmental impacts, the approach simplifies the archiving of council activities and makes it easier for the public to access more information. A voice-activated council chamber video recording system allows citizens to access live and archived meetings.

Tree health and sustainability are important to South Sioux City, which has qualified for the Arbor Day Foundation’s You are leaving WAPA.gov. Tree City USA designation for 25 years and earned the Growth Award for 10 years. For the past eight years, the city has planted one new tree for every 30 residents.

Residents enjoy the city’s two community gardens and the more than 200 fruit trees the city planted in 2014. The orchard is part of a facility designed in partnership with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln to provide storage and opportunities for youth outdoor learning activities. The new building is the first compressed laminated timber structure in Nebraska. Ash tree planks salvaged from emerald ash borer kill and milled by the Nebraska Forest Service side the building. The project received the 2017 Community Enhancement Award from the Arbor Day Foundation.

South Sioux City’s extensive trail network earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year.

South Sioux City’s extensive trail network earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year. (Photo by South Sioux City)

Quality of life is part of environmental health too, and South Sioux City actively promotes healthy lifestyles. The city’s extensive network of developed trails earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006. The trail system connects to 60 miles of trails in four cities and three states, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year.

Partners make it happen
Innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum and partnership is as critical to South Sioux City’s efforts as vision is. City Administrator Lance Hedquist acknowledges that the city’s success with energy efficiency and renewable energy projects results from the support and trust of the mayor, council and staff who share his passion to make the city a great place to live and work.

South Sioux City’s collective approach to innovation, partnerships, governance and trust would be impressive in a city many times its size. In a small municipality, it deserves recognition: WAPA is proud to honor South Sioux City with the Administrator’s Award.

Long road leads to solar success for Southern Ute tribe

Tenacity paid off for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe on July 24, when they dedicated their newly commissioned and fully operational Oxford Solar Project on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in Ignacio, Colorado.

The Southern Ute Tribe built their solar array on the mostly unusable Oxford Tract near a substation and just three miles from the tribal building campus.

The Southern Ute Tribe built their solar array on the mostly unusable Oxford Tract near a substation and just three miles from the tribal building campus. (Photo by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe)

The years it took to develop the 1.3-megawatt (MW), ground-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) system ultimately ensured that the project was a winner for all involved. The array will reduce operating costs for the tribe by offsetting about 15 percent of the energy used by 10 tribal buildings. The siting of the project repurposes more than 10 acres of tribal land that was mostly unusable due to naturally occurring selenium contamination. The Oxford Tract, as the land parcel is called, has strong solar resources, is located near two substations and does not have any endangered or threatened species on it. La Plata Electric AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. which is purchasing the power and providing the grid connection, counts the electricity toward its goal of 20 percent local generation by 2020.

Slow start gathers steam
The Southern Ute Tribe first began to explore the idea of building a PV system in 2006 as a way of diversifying its business interests, and launched the Southern Ute Alternative Energy LLC (SUAE) in 2008. As a for-profit business, the SUAE evaluated solar PV development opportunities on tribal lands from a business perspective. For several years, alternative energy projects remained stubbornly out of reach, too costly for SUAE to pursue.

The turning point came in 2011 when the tribe performed a new feasibility study to look at potential sites and business models. James Jensen, who had recently joined the SUAE staff, recalled that the study was very thorough. “We were open to projects either on or off of tribal land,” he said. “If it was on tribal land, what was the best location? We evaluated environmental factors like whether the land was arable or disturbed or in a floodplain.”

The study also considered the proximity of transmission and substations to potential sites and did economic modeling on hypothetical projects. “We came out of the process with a comprehensive understanding of what would make a successful solar project,” said Jensen.

The findings determined that the Oxford Tract was the most suitable location for a utility-scale solar development, and that a grant was needed to make the project economical.

JumpSTARTing project
Southern Ute Grant Specialist Jody Rosier began working with Jensen on the grant application to submit to the Department of Energy (DOE). Financial help wasn’t the only thing DOE had to offer the tribe, however.

Just as important, Rosier recalled, was the tribe’s participation in the Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) Program. START, a program of the DOE Office of Indian Energy, provides technical assistance to help Native American tribes complete renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. “START analyzed and validated the findings of the feasibility study,” Rosier recalled, “and helped the tribe to establish a relationship with DOE.”

The program also helped the tribe determine the siting of the project near substations belonging to LPEA. “Initially, the project was planned as a ‘virtual metering’ situation, where any kilowatt-hours being generated would offset kilowatt-hours the tribe was using,” explained LPEA Engineering Manager Ron Meier. “Siting the array near a substation was key to making physics work. It really simplified the development process for them.”

Beyond that, Meier added, the purchase power agreement was pretty straightforward. With a budget of $3 million co-funded by the tribe and a $1.5 million grant from the DOE, it was time to start building.

Ready, set, install!
SUAE issued a request for proposals at the end of 2014 for an 800-kW system. It was around that time that the solar industry saw a significant drop in the price of panels. “We were pleasantly surprised when the bids came back to find that we could afford to build a somewhat larger project,” said Jensen.

The tribe chose Boulder, Colorado-based Namaste Solar to design the project for the tribe and install the tracking panels. Jody Rosier noted that tracking technology is becoming more common in new solar installations. “Panels that follow the sun across the sky generate more electricity and that improves a project’s economics,” she said.

The long process that culminated in the July 24 celebration provided the Southern Ute tribe with a thorough education in solar development. Jensen observed that the most important lesson they learned might be to keep the first project simple. He pointed to the selection of a site that did not require an environmental impact study as one factor that kept the project from getting too financially and legally complicated.

Although grants that require matching funds may put projects beyond a tribe’s reach, Rosier encourages tribes that are interested in developing renewable energy systems to investigate available grants. “Grants that require matching funds may not work for tribes,” she warned. “But once the renewable system is up and running, it provides years of sustainable electricity and needs little maintenance.” 

Source: Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, 7/25/17

CIPCO builds Iowa’s largest utility-scale solar project

In Iowa, where renewable energy is often synonymous with wind, one generation-and-transmission (G&T) cooperative is making a big investment in utility-scale solar generation. Over the last year, Central Iowa Power Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CIPCO) built the state’s largest photovoltaic (PV) project across five sites in its service delivery territory.

The completed Urbana Solar Acres development from a drone's-eye view.

The completed Urbana Solar Acres development from a drone’s-eye view. (Photo by Central Iowa Power Cooperative)

The member cooperatives involved in the project are Clarke Electric Cooperative, You are leaving WAPA.gov.Consumers Energy, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative, You are leaving WAPA.gov. East-Central Iowa REC You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Pella Cooperative Electric. You are leaving WAPA.gov. The 5.5-megawatt (MW) project will provide electricity to all CIPCO members of all income levels. “It is our mission as a cooperative to support all our members equally,” noted Communications and Public Affairs Manager Kerry Koonce. “Choosing the utility-scale model for the project rather than community solar accomplishes that.”

Becoming solar leader
In late 2015, CIPCO issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the development of the first of what is intended to be a two-phase utility-scale solar project.

Construction workers install solar racks at the Urbana Solar Acres on East-Central Iowa REC’s site.

Construction workers install solar racks at Urbana Solar Acres on East-Central Iowa REC’s site. (Photo by Central Iowa Power Cooperative)

Several of CIPCO’s 13 members showed interest in hosting a site. Then followed the hard work of determining which sites would be appropriate. “Some potential sites didn’t have sufficient resources, others had leasing issues,” recalled Koonce. “It is so important to make sure to get the correct layout, especially with a first-time project.”

CIPCO had help from the National Renewables Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NRCO), a trade group formed by cooperatives to facilitate the development and deployment of renewable energy resources. NRCO managed the RFP process and supplied engineering expertise for the project. CIPCO has used NRCO resources in the past to review wind-purchase contracts as well.

To install the arrays, CIPCO selected Azimuth Energy LLC You are leaving WAPA.gov. of St. Louis, Missouri, an engineering, construction and development-support service company for renewable energy and energy efficient projects. The design of the ground-mounted arrays included features like fixed-axis racking and transformerless string inverters to reduce installation cost, improve performance and simplify maintenance. The projects were completed on schedule by the end of 2016.

Sun keeps rising
The new solar generation is part of a portfolio that includes 199 MW of wind power, 14 MW of WAPA hydropower and 1.6 MW of waste-to-energy generation. In all, CIPCO gets nearly 60 percent of its power supply from low-carbon resources. Koonce observed that clean energy has always been important to CIPCO’s members and with the decline in solar panel prices, the time was right to add solar to the mix.

Consumers Energy representatives celebrate the opening of the Marshalltown Gateway Centre solar array..

Consumers Energy representatives celebrate the opening of the Marshalltown Gateway Centre solar array. (Photo by Central Iowa Power Cooperative)

According to Koonce, the solar site will eventually pay for itself in the energy it produces, although the exact payback period is not known. The $9 million cost of all five solar sites, spread over 20 years to take advantage of some federal solar tax credits, is significantly less than the cost of building a new coal-fired plant, she added.

CIPCO’s overall resource plan focuses on natural gas, wind and more solar, with a second phase of solar development planned for this year. Battery storage is not part of the conversation at this point, Koonce noted, because the cost of storage systems is still very high compared to CIPCO’s stable rates. For now, “Our members won’t be seeing an increase due to adding solar,” Koonce says. “The resource is very cost effective for us.”

But members can be sure that CIPCO will be watching battery storage and other new technologies, as the G&T continues to build its diverse, affordable and environmentally friendly power supply.

IREC, partners push solar training for allied professions

Free webinar
June 15, 2017
12:00-1:30 PM MT

Half-day Forum
San Francisco, California
July 1, 2017

As solar installations continue to grow exponentially, there is an increasing need for other professions to know more about solar technologies. Firefighters, local code officials and electrical and building inspectors need a thorough understanding about solar technologies if the solar sector is to continue growing in a safe and sustainable way.

To meet this need, the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative provided funding to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) to develop Solar Training and Education for Professionals You are leaving WAPA.gov. (STEP). Working with partners in related fields, IREC created a number of training resources for allied professionals whose jobs require some knowledge of solar technology.

IREC’s STEP partners are:

Training online
STEP is presenting Solar Updates in the 2017 National Electrical Code, You are leaving WAPA.gov. an interactive webinar June 15. This interactive webinar will cover new articles, such as large scale photovoltaic (PV) electric supply stations and energy storage systems, and changes to existing provisions like rapid shutdown and grounding of PV systems. Participants will have the opportunity to submit questions in advance, or during the webinar. The event is free and continuing education units (CEUs) are available.

Training in person
For solar professionals in California, an in-person workshop You are leaving WAPA.gov. has been scheduled in conjunction with Intersolar North America in San Francisco, July 12. The half-day training session is one in a series of national forums on solar codes and safety specifically for local building planners and inspectors, architects, builders, solar installers and others who will benefit, including fire officials.

National solar code and technical experts will discuss the most recent solar code updates and impact on those tasked with enforcement. The material will cover much of the same ground as the webinar but in more detail, with an eye on California. Other solar code enforcement considerations, including permitting and first responder safety, will be discussed. After attending this session, participants will be able to:

  • Identify three or more solar code updates
  • Explain the impact of one or more solar code changes
  • Navigate to solar code resources, including best practices for permitting

The forum is also eligible for CEUs from the International Code Council, IAEI and North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

Training on demand
In addition to these upcoming training opportunities, STEP offers specific free online training courses for code officials PV Online Training for Code Officials You are leaving WAPA.gov. and firefighters Solar PV Safety for Firefighters Online Course.

For questions about the Solar Codes and Safety Forum contact IREC at 518-621-7379.

Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, 5/22/17

California utilities discuss concerns at UEF roundtable

An Energy Services Bulletin story last month looked at the results of a Utility Dive survey You are leaving WAPA.gov. that asked power providers what their biggest concerns were. This month, several California utilities—including many WAPA customers—gathered at the Utility Energy Forum You are leaving WAPA.gov. (UEF) Pre-Forum Roundtable to talk about the issues that kept them up at night.

Because of their potential as a revenue source and demand response tool, electric vehicles were a running topic at the UEF Pre-Forum Roundtable.

Because of their potential as a revenue source and demand response tool, electric vehicles were a running topic at the UEF Pre-Forum Roundtable. (Photo by DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy)

The UEF program committee asked utility and government representatives to weigh in on the topics they wanted to discuss in the exclusive session dedicated to those groups. Not surprisingly, the responses reflected California’s unique situation, even as they echoed the findings of the Utility Dive survey.

Energy storage
The question that was No. 1 in the minds of survey respondents was, “What is the value of energy storage for customers, utilities and the grid?” It is not hard to connect the dots between energy storage and concerns about distributed energy policy and aging grid infrastructure that ranked high in the Utility Dive survey. But in California, a combination of legislative and market forces have made energy storage specifically a relevant topic.

Most people automatically think about battery systems when they hear energy storage, and six utilities in the state have already installed and are experimenting with that technology. However, thermal storage—using available renewable electricity to heat water or make ice for later use in heating or cooling—is a proven technology in use at eight California utilities. Pacific Gas and Electric has the state’s only pumped storage project, which uses renewable energy to pump water to a higher-altitude reservoir where it is released to generate hydropower when needed.

Utilities and battery manufacturers still have much to learn about storage batteries, from funding and installation to operation and maintenance to best uses for the systems. Riverside Public Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. enlisted the University of California Riverside as You are leaving WAPA.gov. a research partner to discover more about solar-plus-storage capabilities. Imperial Irrigation District You are leaving WAPA.gov. installed 30 megawatts (MW) of storage last October. System operators find it valuable for balancing intermittent solar power during weekdays, but also note that it takes 220 tons of air conditioning to control battery temperatures. Maintaining constant battery temperature is crucial to extending the life of batteries. Tucson Electric Power (TEP) chose to lease 10 MW of storage from Next Era You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Eon You are leaving WAPA.gov. as a way of easing through the learning curve. The system supports 40 MW of solar and provides ancillary services for TEP.

So far, the business case for storage has yet to be made because utilities are still discovering the values associated with it. Also, each utility will have to learn how to maximize storage on its own system. Planning and rate design will play a critical role in unlocking the value of the technology. But utilities can’t afford to hang back, as big, energy-intensive businesses like data centers are already investigating going off-grid with their own solar-plus-storage systems. These customers may prove to be important partners for power providers seeking to meet storage mandates.

More to offer
Stagnant load growth appeared in the Top 10 Utility Dive survey results, a harbinger of reduced revenues utilities can expect from distributed generation and storage technologies. California utilities seem to be ahead of the curve in this respect, interested in exploring new business models to grow services and build relationships. Many roundtable participants have begun to create programs and services that offer customers more than kilowatts.

A number of industry surveys indicate that most consumers still rely on their power providers to help them sort out claims about electrical products and services. Utilities can leverage this trust to get customers to take a holistic approach to energy use, installing weatherization and efficient appliances and systems before moving on to renewables.

The City of Palo Alto Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CPAU), for example, offers comprehensive home audits and free concierge service that customers can call with any question about energy use. The service is just starting to take off as CPAU hones its message and outreach strategy. “Ongoing customer communication is critical, and not just for specific programs,” observed CPAU Key Account Manager Bryan Ward. “The issues are complex and education is tough, but the more customers understand, the more they can make good decisions for themselves.”

When the customer is ready to install a solar array, the utility has a vested interest in making sure the job is done right. Roseville Electric Utility’s Trusted Solar Advisor program has been highly successful in helping its customers make educated decisions about solar installations. The “Solar Guy,” Energy Program Technician David Dominguez, has even become something of a local celebrity. Roseville is considering expanding the program to other services, like electric vehicles and energy storage. The moral of Roseville’s story is that personalizing a program can take it to a whole new level.

EVs, rate design central to discussion
Of course, you can’t have a discussion about new utility services without the subject of electric vehicle charging stations coming up. Roundtable participants represented a number of different approaches to this service. Burbank Water and Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. installs level 1 (standard household) charger outlets on customers’ property and offers a rebate to customers to install a level 2 (240-volt) outlet.

CPAU facilitates permitting and filing for residential and commercial charger installation and for transformer upgrades. Multifamily units, nonprofits and schools are eligible for rebates for chargers, but high-tech businesses in CPAU’s territory didn’t need an incentive to install the technology. The important thing, most agreed, was that utilities need to be involved in pushing out EV chargers, both for the new revenue stream and to ensure effective deployment and implementation.

EVs and technologies like home automation—another behind-the-meter product utilities could offer—lend themselves to load shifting, especially in residential settings. To take full advantage of such demand response strategies, utilities will have to design rates that give customers a reason to participate. The Public Utility Commission of California You are leaving WAPA.gov. has called for robust time-of-use rates, which would present utilities with another customer education challenge. Power providers will also want to make sure that vendors of behind-the-meter services are giving consumers honest and accurate information and appropriate support.

Energy efficiency ain’t easy
The final roundtable issue was one that is relevant across the country, but again with special significance to California: What hurdles are you encountering integrating and managing more energy efficiency in your mix?

In addition to the state getting half of its electricity from green energy by 2030, California buildings must also increase energy efficiency by 50 percent. As any utility program manager can tell you, the more successful you are at reducing your customers’ energy use, the harder it is to find new savings. The overall trend toward higher efficiency standards for appliances and equipment, along with some of the toughest building codes in the U.S., is already making it more difficult to design effective efficiency programs.

Encouraging customers to make energy-efficiency improvements is further complicated by the fact that electricity rates may continue to rise anyway. Consumers don’t generally care about the intricacies of load resource balance or system optimization, issues that resist simple messaging. To make matters worse, third-party vendors rarely bother to explain to their customers how installing a measure will actually affect their home utility bills—if they, themselves, understand.

When the subject is energy efficiency, talk always circles back to flat and falling revenues, something affecting almost everyone on the panel. Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. attributes a noticeable decline in sales to building codes. EV charging and electric water heating could help to make up some load, especially since most water heaters in the state are still gas units. But CPAU found few takers for a pilot program offering customers a generous rebate to install electric heat pump water heaters.

Change still only constant
There is still plenty of low-hanging efficiency fruit that utilities have not yet picked, though participants acknowledged that it may be getting more expensive to reach. The “free” electricity from a solar array is a lot more appealing to customers than elusive “savings” from an energy-efficient appliance. It is enough to make utilities wonder if the best days of energy-efficiency programs and incentives are behind them.

And yet, industry research shows a strong correlation between energy efficiency and customer satisfaction. Such programs give utilities a chance to interact with customers in a way they wouldn’t get to otherwise. Board members may continue to support a traditional program that does not contribute much to financial or operational goals because they see the public relations value of it. If utilities are going to phase out traditional energy-efficiency programs, they will need to find other ways keep customers engaged and happy.

The two hours scheduled for the UEF Pre-Forum Roundtable passed quickly and—spoiler alert—we did not resolve our most pressing issues. That is likely to take trial, error and perhaps an appetite for risk that is hard to square with our historic mission of reliability and affordability. But it did remind us that customer relationships must be viewed as part of the solution.

Utility Dive lists Top 10 transformative trends: What do you think?

Transformation could be the most overused word in the electric utility industry these days. Big data, energy storage, the internet of things and electric vehicles are just a few of the technologies we are being told will change the way we do business forever.

But what utility professionals see on the ground may be quite different, both from what we hear and from what other utilities are dealing with. The trends that are actually affecting your utility depend on what part of the country you serve, what your customer base looks like and whether you are an investor-owned or public power utility.

To get a sense of where the utility industry is headed, the online magazine Utility Dive You are leaving WAPA.gov. recently identified 10 trends that seem destined to shape our near future:

10. Coal power in decline – Since 2009, 25 gigawatts (GW) of coal capacity has retired in the U.S., and another 25 GW of retirements are planned by 2022. However, the Environmental Protection Agency still expects coal to be a major fuel source for electricity generation through 2030.

9. Natural gas is growing fast – As market conditions and regulations push older coal generators into retirement, utilities are increasingly looking to gas plants to add reliable capacity quickly. Analysts still expect it to grow steadily over the coming decade and then switch to retirement between 2020 and 2030, a trend that could come sooner if natural gas prices rise from their historic lows.

8. Renewables reaching grid parity – Once dismissed as too expensive to be competitive, wind and solar—especially utility-scale—are reaching grid parity and often pricing out more traditional generation resources. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that wind could be the nation’s single greatest source of energy by 2050, comprising up to 35 percent of the fuel mix.

7. Utilities face growing load defection – With the rapid proliferation of rooftop solar, some customers are bypassing their local utility for their electricity needs, especially in a few markets such as Hawaii and California. Customers combining load management strategies with rooftop solar installations could purchase less power from their utility, and may even cut the cord altogether.

6. Utilities getting in on the solar game – A number of utilities are responding to load defection and consumer demand for clean energy by expanding into the solar industry, both in the utility-scale and rooftop markets. Community shared solar, which allows customers without suitable rooftops for solar to buy a few modules on a larger array, grew exponentially between 2014 and 2016.

5. Debates over rate design reforms and value of distributed energy resources (DERs) are heating up – Altering rate designs to properly value distributed resources is a trend that has largely grown out of retail net metering. This pays utility customers with solar the retail rate for the electricity they send back to the grid.

4. Utilities are modernizing the grid – Adding new utility-scale and distributed renewable capacity has increased the need for utilities to upgrade and modernize their transmission and distribution grids. Many of the regulatory initiatives underway to help determine the value of DERs also order their state’s utilities to prepare their distribution grids for increased penetrations of distributed resources.

3. Utilities buying into storage – Few technologies hold as much promise as energy storage for utilities looking to optimize their distribution grids and integrate more renewables. While the price for battery storage is still too high to make projects economical in regions with relatively inexpensive electricity, costs are coming down quickly.

2. Utilities becoming more customer-centric – Power companies used to think of their consumers simply as ratepayers, or even just “load,” but new home energy technologies and shifting customer expectations are pushing them to focus on individual consumers. Increasingly, utilities are seeing it in their best interests to market themselves to customers as “trusted energy advisors” of sorts.

1. Utility business models are changing – The common thread running through these trends is that they all are changing the way electric utilities have traditionally done business. Where utilities were once regulated monopolies, the growth of distributed resources is forcing them to rethink their business models. California and New York have captured most of the headlines for redefining the utilities’ role on the distribution grid, but other states have initiated their own dockets to transform business models.

It is likely that your utility has had to think about at least a few of these issues and may be grappling with more of them before long. Energy Services is here to help our customers manage these challenges and more. Contact your Energy Services representative to discuss how to turn transformation into your greatest opportunity.

Source: Utility Dive

Butler County REC tests water for solar energy

Iowa leads the nation in installed wind capacity—only Texas ranks higher—but lags at 34th for installed solar, leaving utilities like Butler County Rural Electric Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. (REC) facing a learning curve. To fill in some of those knowledge gaps, the cooperative launched a demonstration project in late January that will allow it to collect data about solar energy and pass it on to its members.

Butler County REC chose a Duo High-Density system that features both north- and south-facing panels for maximum generation.

Butler County REC chose a Duo High-Density system that features both north- and south-facing panels for maximum generation. (Photo by Butler County Rural Electric Cooperative)

It was growing consumer interest that led to the project, according to Craig Codner, Butler County REC chief executive officer. “As our members continue in the direction of having more interest in renewable energy, we want to share accurate information with them,” he explained. “We want to help members make informed decisions.”

Putting it together
The exploration began with the selection of a 230.6 (kW) direct-current (DC)/147-kilowatt (kW) alternating-current solar array manufactured by Ten K Solar You are leaving WAPA.gov. of Minnesota. Codner said the co-op board chose the Duo High-Density system because it was designed for maximum energy generation and has an excellent warranty.

The system’s wave format features both north- and south-facing modules, increasing the opportunity for demand reduction. The north-facing modules will generate more electricity earlier and later in the day, while the south-facing units will produce higher amounts in the middle of the day, increasing the energy per square foot.

A crew from Western Iowa Power Cooperative installed the system at Butler County REC’s warehouse in Horton, north of Waverly, Iowa. The system is interconnected to Butler County REC’s distribution system with bi-directional metering, rather than net metering. The electricity offsets energy and demand at a rate contracted through Corn Belt PowerYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Butler County REC’s generation and transmission provider.

The co-op expects the arrays to generate about 268,000 kilowatt-hours per year, or enough to serve approximately 15 to 20 members annually. Members and co-op employees can monitor the solar project’s real-time output through a web-based kiosk.  You are leaving WAPA.gov. Codner said that there are plans to add an educational video to the website, as well. “One of the main reasons for the project is to help members understand solar better, how things like cloud cover or particulates in air affect capacity factor,” he explained.

Paying for experience
The project’s total cost of approximately two dollars per DC watt is partially funded by a $20,000 Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant, New Clean Renewable Energy Bond (CREB) financing and a federal tax credit.

This was the first time Butler County REC received REAP funding, offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Applying for the REAP grant and for New CREB financing from the National Rural Co-op Finance Corporation You are leaving WAPA.gov. was a labor-intensive experience, Codner acknowledged. “I would advise co-ops to look carefully at all their financing options when they undertake a renewable energy project,” he said. “Self-financing avoids a lot of paperwork.”

Continuing renewables support
The new solar array may be Butler County REC’s first foray into utility-owned renewables, but the co-op has offered members the opportunity to support member-owned clean energy projects since 2006. The Energy Wise Renewables program initially supported only wind projects but has been expanded to include solar and other types of generation that enhance the traditional electric power supply. Codner estimates that there are 350 to 500 kW of solar interconnected to the co-op’s system.

Butler County REC is absorbing the solar project’s cost rather than using Energy Wise dollars to offset it, Codner added. “We decided that those dollars should go to member projects as originally intended,” he said.

Looking ahead
Now that the solar system is operational, Butler County REC is planning an open house to let members get a closer look at the project and ask questions. Codner is looking forward to testing manufacturer claims about the equipment and learning more about interconnection, operation and maintenance. “Safety—for members and our employees—is our No. 1 concern,” he stated.

If all goes well, the co-op board of directors is considering several possible locations for installing a second array in 2017. This second project may be a community solar initiative that would offer subscriptions for sale to members at a set rate for a certain period of time.

So far, the projects on Butler County REC’s system have been smaller ones that are most cost effective if the generation is consumed on site. But good customer service is about preparation and innovation. Butler County REC is taking steps today to make sure it is ready for whatever is coming tomorrow.

Source: In Touch newsletter, February 2017

DGIC announces new website, case studies, webinar schedule

Artwork by Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative

Utilities faced with questions posed by the growth of residential photovoltaic (PV) systems and the emergence of battery storage can find answers with the Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative (DGIC). This forum enables electric utilities, solar industry participants and other stakeholders to exchange best practices for distributed PV interconnection.

Now in its fourth year, the DGIC has updated its website to make it easier for visitors to find exactly what they are looking for. Content is organized by four topic areas:

  • Data transparency
  • Business models and regulation
  • Application processing
  • Analytical methods for interconnection
  • Technology solutions

Webinars, reports and blog articles are just a click away, and DGIC can easily add the latest research on distributed generation coming from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. You will want to bookmark the new website and visit regularly to check for updates.

Suggest case studies
Do you know of an organization doing high-quality, innovative work on the interconnection of distributed generation? You can nominate that organization to be profiled in a series of case studies DGIC is planning to produce. The case studies will extend DGIC’s peer exchange beyond the webinar format to highlight leading practices in the field.

Help DGIC identify industry leaders by submitting your nominations by April 30. The nomination form will remain open after that date but only nominations received by the deadline will be considered for completion in 2017.

Attend webinars
The DGIC webinar schedule for 2017 has been released and it showcases a diverse array of topics and expert speakers from utilities, research organizations and other industry participants.

The peer exchange events begin April 5 with Energy Storage Permitting, Interconnection, and AnalysisYou are leaving WAPA.gov. This webinar will focus on one of the most talked about and fastest growing distributed energy resources in the country. This relatively new technology has the ability to act as both a load and a generator, posing unique challenges when interconnecting to the grid. Attendees will learn about permitting, interconnection requirements, and the specific analytical needs of energy storage systems.

Distributed Solar for Smaller UtilitiesYou are leaving WAPA.gov. on May 18, will highlight the experiences of smaller utilities that are shifting their business processes, staffing, planning and operations to integrate distributed solar into their systems.

The July 19 webinar, Plug-and-Play SolarYou are leaving WAPA.gov. will discuss new technologies and techniques that could reduce equipment and labor costs, but may require changes to interconnection standards and procedures.

The webinar series concludes in September with Aggregation of Distributed Energy Resources which will feature lessons learned from utilities exploring the possibility of putting a variety of distributed resources under unified operational control. The date and registration information for this webinar will be announced later this year.

All scheduled webinars will be presented from 12 to 1 P.M. Mountain Time. There is no cost to participate, but registration is required.

Source: The Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative, 2/24/17

Sustainability commitment leads BHSU to many ‘firsts’

Black Hills State University You are leaving WAPA.gov. (BHSU) in Spearfish, South Dakota, is joining other higher education leaders in renewable energy and sustainable operations by becoming the first university with extensive use of solar power.

The institutional WAPA customer is investigating installing solar panels on four campus buildings to serve those facilities’ energy needs and reduce electricity costs. The solar generation would replace supplemental power from Black Hills Energy and save BHSU an estimated $10,000 in the first year, according to information from the South Dakota Board of Regents.

Dedicated to sustainability
Cost savings—and a hedge against fuel prices—is a great reason for any business to install a renewable energy system, but for BHSU it is not the only one. The university was the first in South Dakota to join the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, You are leaving WAPA.gov. and under the Carbon Commitment program, You are leaving WAPA.gov. has set a goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

This 1.8-kilowatt wind turbine in front of the LEED Gold-certified student union puts generates a small amount of electricity and raises awareness about renewable energy.

This 1.8-kilowatt wind turbine in front of BHSU’s LEED Gold-certified student union generates a small amount of electricity and raises awareness about renewable energy. (Photo by Black Hills State University)

The process began with a Climate Action Plan, and includes participation in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System You are leaving WAPA.gov. (STARS). The voluntary self-reporting system helps colleges and universities to assess progress in meeting sustainability goals and sustainability leadership. STARS ratings are based on three main categories: education and research; operation and planning; administration and engagement. On Earth Day 2014, BHSU received a STARS Silver rating, making it the first South Dakota university to achieve that international rating.

Among the “green” initiatives that helped BHSU earn its rating are strong building efficiency standards, a robust recycling program and a campus community garden. Campus dining facilities The Hive and The Buzz Shack both achieved Green Restaurant Certification You are leaving WAPA.gov. in 2014, the first university-attached restaurants in the state to do so.

The university has already made small forays into the use of renewables, installing solar-powered lighting at campus entrances and a 1.8-kilowatt wind turbine in front of the student union. “It puts a small amount of generation back onto the grid and provides an introduction to renewable energy for students and visitors,” said Corinne Hansen, BHSU director of university and community relations.

Everyone involved
BHSU students, faculty and staff serve on the Sustainability Committee, which recommends strategies to advance BHSU’s climate goals. This committee meets every semester to plan activities that promote sustainability efforts on campus, and to educate the campus community on sustainability issues.

Successful strategies include faculty carpool and bike leasing programs to cut down on emissions from commutes around town and between Spearfish and the BHSU Rapid City campus. Landscaping with a stormwater management system slows and diverts runoff.

Sustainability concepts have been incorporated into lesson plans and even art projects, including an exhibit at the student union of sculptures made from recycled materials. The school received a national grant to fund a research project on solar cell materials and students have developed business plans for an innovative mobile recycling business.

Building for future
As part of the Climate Action Plan, all new buildings and major renovations at BHSU are built to LEED You are leaving WAPA.gov. (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver or higher standards. The David B. Miller Yellow Jacket Student Union was the first state building to earn this standard, earning LEED Gold after its 2009 renovation.

The LEED Silver Life Science Laboratory has been chosen as one of the four sites for the solar arrays. Features that earned the building its LEED rating include a design that maximizes daylighting; the incorporation of recycled and local materials during construction; low-flow plumbing fixtures and low emitting carpet, paint, adhesives and sealants.

The other three buildings identified for the solar project include the Young Center, Woodburn Hall and the library, with the Young Center to be the first. “All four buildings have new roofs and good solar exposure,” explained Hansen. “The Young Center has the biggest roof by square feet.”

Lighting retrofits have helped to reduce the electrical loads in the Young Center and the library.

More to come
The university expects installation of the solar panels to be completed this summer, but sustainability is more than just clean energy. BHSU aims to decrease its waste stream by 25 percent from 2014 to 2018 by expanding recycling initiatives and introducing a user-friendly, desk-side disposal system. Going beyond recycling, a plan to discourage the use of disposable water bottles was launched in 2014 with the installation of filtered water bottle-filling stations across campus. Facilities Services will continue to replace traditional water fountains with water bottle-refill stations as needed.

Building upgrades will continue to increase campus energy efficiency, especially areas where electricity or heating demands can be significantly reduced. A complete upgrade of the building automation system is planned for 2018. Also in the next year, BHSU is planning an energy savings performance contract covering all campus academic buildings.

Ultimately, these projects and new ones that will arise as BHSU moves toward climate neutrality are as much about the future of the students as the future of the planet. Renewable energy systems, energy efficiency and recycling will reduce the university’s operating costs over the long term, and the savings can be channeled into improving education. More importantly, embracing sustainability principles prepares students for a rapidly changing world in which they will have many opportunities to achieve their own “firsts.”