Distributed Energy Resource Saturation: Page 7 of 7
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No solar developer wants to tell customers that their small ground-mounted system could potentially have a 3-plus–year delay in interconnection. Sometimes this delay does not present itself until the developer is already 6 months into the process. Customers often do not understand or have the patience for such setbacks. However, areas on the distribution grid that were once prime DER locations have now become saturated, resulting in nightmare scenarios for developers and customers alike.
Johnson at JKB Energy shares an example: “Not only do many customers experience substation upgrade requirements, but also some have had to upgrade the same substation more than one time. On multiple occasions, existing customers have sought to install additional solar capacity on a distribution circuit they were already interconnected to only to face additional upgrades—in some cases, within 12 or 18 months of the previous substation upgrade.” She continues: “Instead of mandating that the IOUs anticipate future solar generation capacity, the CPUC requires prompt distribution upgrades based on the existing interconnection queue. The lack of pre-emptive upgrades on the utility substation infrastructure has caused significant impacts to customers’ bottom lines.”
Developers and EPC firms should do everything in their power to set reasonable and accurate interconnection time lines, which may mean informing customers that the path to interconnection could be a long and arduous journey. One useful tool in setting expectations is the revamped Rule 21 pre-application report. For a nominal fee, companies can get access to grid minimum loading data, utility equipment sizes, utility equipment ratings and other real-time site-specific utility data. With some technical understanding, they can use these data to identify distribution and service level upgrades prior to submitting an interconnection application. The data contained in the expanded pre-application can be crucial in early determination of the overall interconnection cost and time line.
Engagement. When I speak to colleagues, many of the same topics come up across the industry: new tracking technologies or magic widgets that boost production, innovative ideas on how to save a buck in wire management and so on. Many people simply do not understand that grid congestion is a major issue. What good does a fancy new tracking system with impeccably concealed wiring do if you cannot plug the project in?
To develop and advance solutions to California’s interconnection problems, we need more industry engagement. The more we debate, write about and analyze these obstacles, the faster we can overcome them. Companies that participate in the discussion have a distinct advantage because they will understand the coming changes. They can proactively develop the business mechanisms to get the most out of future innovations while everyone else is just playing catch-up.
Kenneth Sahm White is the economics and policy analysis director at the Clean Coalition, a nonprofit working to expedite the transition to a 21st-century energy system. White explains: “We are actively engaged in regulatory policy development though official proceedings and working groups related to procurement, interconnection, full valuation, planning, pilot programs, and development of markets, tariffs and compensation for the range of services that distributed energy resources can provide to customers, utilities and transmission operators. We advocate for policies and programs that typically overlap with growth and cost reduction in all renewable energy industries.”
Groups such as the Clean Coalition and CALSEIA are instrumental in consolidating the solar industry’s concerns and presenting a clear and effective message to the appropriate parties at the CPUC or in the IOUs. These groups also provide training and discussion forums to develop proposals for policy changes that impact the entire industry. Heavner emphasizes the importance of working together as a unified industry via groups like CALSEIA: “We need everyone to join forces to take solar to the next level.”
Tim McDuffie / CalCom Solar / Visalia, CA / calcomsolar.com
Electric Power Research Institute, “The Integrated Grid: A Benefit-Cost Framework,” February 2015
General Electric Energy Consulting, “California Solar Initiative Final Project Report: Quantification of Risk of Unintentional Islanding and Re-Assessment of Interconnection Requirements in High Penetration of Customer-Sited PV Generation,” August 2016
Lydic, Brian, “How California’s Rule 21 Inverter Requirements Expand Grid Capacity and Limit Energy (Revenue) Generation,” Solar Builder, June 28, 2016
More Than Smart (previously the Greentech Leadership Group), “A Framework to Make the Distribution Grid More Open, Efficient and Resilient,” August 2014