A new rooftop photovoltaic solar array is being installed every minute in the United States, with 4 million expected to be generating power by 2020. Knowledgeable building code professionals are needed to make sure these systems are installed correctly and safely. To help ensure quality inspections, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council has launched a new online interactive video solar training series for local code officials.
Taking the approach of the popular DIY series, This Old House, developers have created videos that are as entertaining as they are informative. Online viewers join IREC Training Specialist Joe Sarubbi to follow seasoned building and electrical inspectors through the finer points of five different solar inspections. Each video highlights a different type of system and technology, including:
DC-DC converter systems
Tesla Powerwall energy storage systems
Ground mounted AC-coupled systems with energy storage
Commercial carport systems
Presented in an engaging, easy-to-watch video format, the training can be completed in just a handful of lunch-hour sessions and is aimed at new and experienced residential inspectors, as well as residential PV installers.
The videos incorporate the 2017 National Electrical Code and the most current international building, residential and fire codes. “The new PV Inspector Online Training course for code officials brings together a remarkable group of experienced PV system inspectors from across the country to present a wide variety of PV system types and technologies,” said Rebekah Hren, a member of the NEC’s Code Making Panel 4.
Check out this short video for a look at how the solar training for code officials looks and feels. The training is available onlinefree of charge for a limited time.
Platte River Power Authority recently got the results of a study it commissioned on the relative costs of transitioning to net-zero carbon generation by 2030. The study found that the northern Colorado generation and transmission utility can deliver a net-zero carbon generation portfolio for a cost premium of only 8 percent over the lifetime of the planning horizon (2018–2050).
A story in RMI Outlet, the Rocky Mountain Institute blog, noted that researchers used relatively conservative assumptions for solar and wind costs, and did not consider demand-side efforts in their calculations. This is significant not only because the estimated difference in cost is so small, but also because it indicates the actual cost premium may be even lower than 8 percent.
History of commitment PRPA and its municipal utility owners—Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland—have a long-standing commitment to clean energy and efficiency. The G&T contracts for approximately 198 megawatts of carbon-free resources from wind, hydropower and solar assets. In fall 2016, PRPA diversified its power production portfolio further by adding 30 MW of solar power at Rawhide Flats Solar.
Calculating total cost Technology company Siemens performed the study that is unique in showing a low cost for net-zero generation that incorporates transmission costs and balancing charges as well as fuel costs. RMI calls it proof that a net-zero path can achieve cost parity against coal even in coal country and that renewables can compete anywhere.
WAPA celebrates PRPA and its members for their initiative and for showing that public power utilities can lead the way to a low-carbon future.
Utility program managers know that equipment rebates are not only a building block of load management strategies, but are also an effective customer outreach tool. Surprisingly effective, in the case of Holy Cross Energy’s recent Passive Solar Livestock Tank Sales Event.
The Colorado electrical cooperative teamed up with Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER) and Pine Ranch Products in October to offer the SunTank stock watering tank at wholesale pricing to livestock owners in three Rocky Mountain counties. Members responded enthusiastically to the offer, placing 30 orders for a total of 58 tanks. “It caught us a little off guard,” admitted Mary Wiener, Energy Efficiency Program administrator for Holy Cross Energy.
Manufactured by the Utah-based company, the tank eliminates the need either for costly electric heating units or for manually breaking and shoveling ice that forms on tanks in subzero weather. The water in the heavily insulated tank is not exposed directly to sunlight so it is algae resistant and requires less cleaning than a conventional stock tank. As far as Wiener can tell, it is the only product of its type on the market.
Product opens doors Holy Cross has offered a $250 rebate on solar stock tanks for several years as part of its WE CARE carbon reduction program, but there have been few takers. “We don’t have a big agricultural load,” Wiener explained. “It’s mainly a few irrigation pumps.”
At $649 to $825, the retail price for the 25- and 42-gallon SunTanks might be a barrier as well. However, Wiener thinks that the lack of interest in the rebate mainly stemmed from members not being aware of the offer. “I didn’t know about solar stock tanks until a member told me about them,” she said.
Wiener learned about the water tanks during a home energy audit she performed for members Rachel Marble and Kevin White, who are horse owners. The couple was understandably excited to show off their new solar-heated SunTank to their power provider’s efficiency expert. Wiener, for her part, immediately recognized an opportunity to connect with members she rarely saw outside of the occasional request for an energy audit.
CLEER, a public benefit organization which frequently partners with Holy Cross on member efficiency programs, had expressed interest in doing an outreach project for agricultural members. While the stock tank is not likely to have a big impact on Holy Cross’s load, “It was something that would really help our members,” Wiener said. “Utilities should be looking for services they can offer besides just electricity.”
Word gets out, orders come in Getting members’ attention is just as critical to a program’s success as identifying valuable products and services. Holy Cross started the promotion with a booth at the local Potato Day Festival, which attracted a lot of members with a drawing for one of the stock tanks. Two articles in local newspapers followed the festival and the October sale was posted on the utility website event calendar.
If Pine Ranch received orders for more than 10 tanks, buyers would get the wholesale price. The company eliminated the shipping fee by agreeing to drive the tanks from the Santa Clara, Utah, factory. To sweeten the deal, Holy Cross increased the rebate from $250 to $300 and covered the 2.9 percent sales tax in the rebate. How could livestock owners resist?
In fact, not many did. Colorado Mountain College alone ordered 10 tanks for the veterinary technology program on its Spring Valley campus. The SunTanks support the school’s sustainability efforts while providing the program’s animals with a cleaner, more accessible water source. The sale was so successful, Pine Ranch was swamped by the number of orders and had to move the late November delivery date to mid-December. “I didn’t realize we had so many livestock animals in our territory,” observed Wiener.
Success has its price Although the partners are pleased that the promotion succeeded far beyond their expectations, Holy Cross has no plans to repeat the Passive Solar Stock Tank Sale soon. “I would do some things differently if we did it again,” Wiener acknowledged. “It was a lot of work for a very small member segment.”
Some changes she would make to the program include taking preorders and holding the sale in September to make sure that the tanks arrive by November, ahead of the freezing weather. Wiener also advises choosing your partners carefully, as some organizations that initially wanted to join the promotion failed to follow through with the promised support. Pine Ranch, however, did a great job, she added. “The company was really well organized, which helped them handle the big order.”
Ultimately, Holy Cross Energy counts the Passive Solar Stock Tank Sale as a win, and Wiener believes other cooperatives with livestock customers should consider doing a group purchase event. “Try something new,” she urged. “It was good for our customers and our relationship with them, and it brought attention to a great product made by a small business.”
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(IREC) has added new informational videos to its suite of training resources.
IREC partnered with the International Association of Electrical Inspectors(IAEI) and the International Code Council(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®(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.”
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
WAPA Administrator Mark Gabriel will present WAPA’s prestigious Administrator’s Award to South Sioux City, Nebraska, Oct. 18 at the Delta Hotels in South Sioux City. The presentation is part of 2017 National Bioenergy Day, 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 Energygasifier 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.
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 Plantdisplaces 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.
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 Poolmarkets.
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’sTree 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.
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.
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 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 Association, 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
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 (CIPCO) built the state’s largest photovoltaic (PV) project across five sites in its service delivery territory.
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.
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 (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 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.
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.
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 (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.
Training online STEP is presenting Solar Updates in the 2017 National Electrical Code, 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 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.
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 enlisted the University of California Riverside as a research partner to discover more about solar-plus-storage capabilities. Imperial Irrigation District 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 and Eon 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 (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 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 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 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.
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 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.