Editor’s Note: Originally published on July 12, this article has been updated to include additional wrap-ups of Wednesday sessions. The following are brief summaries of some of the Tuesday and Wednesday sessions at this week’s co-located Intersolar and ees North America trade shows in San Francisco and are provided courtesy of the exhibitions and conferences’ press service.
TUESDAY, JULY 11
States Discuss Regulatory Challenges and Opportunities for Distributed Generation
Net metering has been one of the most important incentive programs to increase the deployment of distributed generation on the grid. Industry experts from across the country came together to discuss the variability among state-level regulatory environments during the “Net Metering and Potential Future Alternatives” session at Intersolar North America.
Galen L. Barbose of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) opened the discussion with some insights on economic efficiency, stating, “Cost shifts from distributed solar are, and will be, a small issue for rate impacts. For most utilities, this is going to remain in the noise. There are a lot of other things that have a much bigger impact on electricity rates than distributed solar.”
Several speakers provided perspectives from states undergoing a policy transition.
Rick Reed, president of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association (HSEA), identified the realignment efforts taking place in his state as it moves forward without net metering. Brad Heavner, policy director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA), discussed the period California has endured when instating new iterations of net metering policy in the state. Based on some regulatory uncertainty, he noted the importance of education as “a better way to look more broadly.”
Political context is key when it comes to understanding the regulatory development for solar and distributed generation. Katie Rever, director of legislative and regulatory affairs at IGS Energy, described the regulatory reforms driving the renewable energy industry in New York. Given New York’s progressive commitment to 50% renewables by 2030, the state has realigned utility models and incentives to accurately determine valuation and compensation of distributed generation.
Court Rich, a partner with Rose Law Group, built upon the importance of navigating the political climate stating, “if distributed generation is going to be successful, it can’t only be a Blue State technology, but also a Red State technology.”
David Shaffer, policy director and counsel for Minnesota Solar Energy Industry Association (MnSEIA), noted the state’s success in implementing a feed-in-tariff program in the place of net metering as the primary driver for utility-scale and community solar development.
Optimizing PV Plant Performance to Enable Investment
Given the development boom prior to the extension of the federal investment tax credit in 2015, the utility-scale sector has dramatically grown across the U.S. As hard costs continue to fall, system owners must leverage data analytics to inform reliable procurement decisions to maximize return on investment. During the “PV Plants: System Configuration” session, industry leaders provided concrete recommendations to help investors minimize their investment risk.
AJ Rossman, Infiswift’s senior director of performance solutions, described the importance of setting standards as “foundations of success” to accurately evaluate data and optimize the value of a PV plant. He noted the Internet of Things provides its greatest promise when linking data between communities, providing valuable insights for financiers and project managers alike.
Patrick Keelin, director of product management for SunLink Corp., focused on the differentiation between active and inactive design as solar components including inverters and mounting systems have seen an incredible transition in recent years. By leveraging standards built in the tech industry to secure anonymous and accessible data, project owners will be able to better understand power plant systems and reduce risks of ownership.
John Vernacchia, global segment manager of Eaton Corp., discussed the increasing prevalence of string inverters on large-scale rooftop projects based on the design, installation, O&M and financial advantages of these applications.
Bob Bellemare, chief financial officer for Array Technologies Inc., discussed the dramatic transition from fixed-tilt mounting systems to tracking technologies throughout the market. Over the past 11 years, the use of trackers in utility-scale PV applications has increased by 64%. Bellemare provided the audience with a clear takeaway from the session, noting, “Technology is your best insurance policy, because ultimately you are the one bearing the risk.”
CALSEIA Brings Together Top Contractors in the State
Solar contractors from across California gathered at CALSEIA’s Contractor Day at Intersolar North America for a five-session workshop led by industry experts. Each session focused on integrating energy storage with solar PV and covered topics including sales and installation of energy storage technologies as well as policy within both nonresidential and residential markets.
Mathew Loving of Green Charge Networks and Phil Fischer of NEC Energy Solutions discussed options for reducing costs for non-residential customers. Panelists throughout the day stressed the importance of educating the public on transparency issues that customers may encounter, including system functionality in times of grid outage as well as upcoming or expected changes to the regulatory landscape that affect utility rate structures.
Technological advancements in energy storage are accelerating the growth of the residential market by optimizing supply and manufacturing processes. Daniel Hill from Tabuchi Electric highlighted the many benefits of increasing intersystem compatibility between PV and storage systems, stating, “The better the plug and play, the easier the installation.”
Finally, Magnus Asbo of SolarEdge and Greg Smith of Sonnen provided sales training to the attendees. By executing proper system design, end customers can reduce their overall spending on hybrid solar-plus-storage systems. With the important role that California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program plays in supporting storage, Brian Bishop of California utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co. rounded out the day by providing troubleshooting strategies for applicants to best finalize their submissions to the program.
GTM Research Predicts U.S. Solar-Plus- Storage Deployments to Cross 1 GW By 2021
The solar-plus-storage market is on the brink of rapid growth, due in part to stronger policy support. According to a new report from GTM Research, the U.S. grid-connected solar-plus-storage market tripled in 2016. Behind-the-meter solar-plus-storage is set to grow at a much greater pace in the next five years. By 2021, U.S. grid-tied solar-paired-storage will pass 1 GW of installations, a growth rate of 31x from 2016.
U.S. states are advancing policies, including procurement targets, incentives, and pilot programs to provide the foundation for strong storage markets. In a presentation at Intersolar/ees North America, Ravi Manghani, director of energy storage at GTM Research, detailed the programs in place in California, New York, Massachusetts and Vermont providing improved economics and opportunities to both the grid and retail customers. While each of these states has pilot programs that will advance energy storage, California is expected to be the market leader for solar-plus-storage; by 2022, the state will account for almost half of the U.S. solar-plus-storage market.
The report, “Solar-Plus-Storage: Architectures, Use Cases and Case Studies on the Grid,” is available to download here.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 12
The Future of Solar: Determination & Democracy
Industry leaders from across the supply chain came together to talk about what lies ahead for the global solar industry during the “Future of PV: Executive Panel” at Intersolar North America. Dr. Eicke R. Weber, director of the Berkeley Education Alliance for Research in Singapore (BEARS) Program, moderated the informal discussion, which played on themes of innovation, economics and policy.
Jeffrey Barnett, Americas president of GCL System Integration Americas, reflected on the extensibility of renewables, stating his belief that the market will reach “terawatt levels when we start thinking of clean energy as a platform as opposed to disparate technologies.” Dr. Dirk Habermann, chief innovation officer of Meyer Burger AG, described the need to rethink the current understanding of PV, believing that the industry has been conservative in pushing the needle forward.
Dr. Martin Keller, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, celebrated how the industry has driven down costs but warned that the integration of materials and manufacturing needs to happen more aggressively in order to create the innovative technology that will help us meet a renewables penetration goal of 80%. Keller echoed this sentiment when discussing international trade, asserting that “if we are serious, we can use innovation to bring the supply chain back from China into the United States.”
Danny Kennedy, managing director of the California Clean Energy Fund, predicted that the next 10 years will be some of solar’s most riveting. “Change is the only constant as we go up exponentially; we are at the inflection moment. Companies and careers will be wrecked, reborn and lost again. We should be prepared for one hell of a ride,” said Kennedy.
Despite the lack support of the federal government, the panelists all agreed that the industry needs to speak with one voice and solidify its position as the single largest employer in the energy industry. As energy becomes increasingly decentralized, regional ownership will provide the industry with local control over energy choices in the long term.
Protecting the Grid’s Future: Cybersecurity & DER Solutions
As solar and energy storage expands and the digital cloud grows, so does the number of potential vulnerabilities in the electric grid. During an in-depth “Smart Renewable Energy” session on digitalization, energy clouds and big data, three industry experts from both the technical and business-facing sides of the energy industry explained current cybersecurity threats and simple practices companies can take to improve grid protections.
In his opening remarks, Keith Rose, vice president of HiQ Solar, provided an overview of the American electric grid’s cybersecurity systems, as well as the strategies the solar industry can take to keep our grid secure. “For each residential home in the United States, you have six potential hacker entrances,” Rose said. “We’re trying to protect millions of doors into our grid.”
Rose also shared that a recent Industrial Control Systems (ICS) report showed that in 2015, of all cyber attacks on industrial systems, half were targeting energy and water systems. He discussed why cybersecurity hacking takes place and basic strategies that hackers can take to impact and control our grid.
Building on Rose’s presentation, Daniel Roesler, co-founder and CEO of UtilityAPI, discussed the importance of protecting energy data and simple tactics to improve both personal and company data. “Energy data is no longer isolated in just one place,” said Roesler. “You now have DER parsing energy data… that is personally identifiable information that should be kept private.” He explained the herd mentality of IoT security and described how smart devices can be linked together in a botnet to facilitate digital attacks. Roesler then launched into a discussion of simple actions that individuals and companies can take to handle their energy data securely. He explained how to use HTTPS-enabled websites to securely share data and reiterated the importance not sending sensitive data as attachments in an email.
Eric Clifton, CEO of Orison, was the last of the three experts to speak and took a less technical and more general approach to cybersecurity and cloud controlled energy in our shifting grid.
“Our utility companies really like business as usual,” Clifton said. “We see them trying to reinvent themselves, but at the end of the day, their business strategies are barely moving the needle.” He shared roadblocks that are currently hindering the all-electric conversion for both the automotive industry and the U.S. electric grid. Clifton believes that utilities looking to get ahead need to implement simple services that put the customer experience first. Due to growing adoption of IoT and smart home devices, there are now more vulnerabilities to the grid. The solar and energy storage industries need to work together to secure digital weak points and protect our shared energy infrastructure.
WRISE Connects Women in Solar at Networking Event
On Wednesday morning, Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE), formerly Women of Wind Energy (WoWE), hosted the organization’s first major networking event since its rebranding. The “WRISE and Shine!” breakfast event at Intersolar and ees North America attracted a diverse group of men and women from across the solar and energy storage industries and gave them a platform to connect and discuss ways to encourage more women to take on leadership and technical roles in the solar industry.
Innovative events, such as Wednesday’s breakfast, are important first steps in building the community necessary to boost the number of women in the solar workforce, remarked several speakers. According to The Solar Foundation, 28% of employees in solar energy are women, and most are in administrative roles. Women are underrepresented in executive and engineering positions, and providing creative platforms for women to connect is the key to not only getting a larger and more diverse group of women in the industry, but also ensuring they keep working in solar.
In conversations at the event, attendees reflected on the importance of building a community – not only for business networking, but for developing a support system and encouraging the pursuit of innovative ideas.
WRISE promotes the education, professional development, and advancement of women to achieve a strong diversified workforce and support a renewable energy economy. There are more than 30 WRISE chapters across the U.S. and Canada.
Photo courtesy of Solar Promotion International GmbH