4 States Lead US In Freeing The Grid For Distributed Solar Energy

by Silvio Marcacci

Pro-solar energy state-level energy policies are arguably as strong right now as they’ve ever been across America, just in time for consumers to take advantage of affordable technologies to generate their own clean electricity.

Vote Solar and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) concluded the policy outlook for distributed generation from solar energy is bright as ever in Freeing the Grid 2013, the 7th annual report card ranking all 50 US states on net metering and interconnection policies.

The report helps policymakers, regulators, and renewable advocates understand the best approaches to these two wonky but critical influences on the growth of solar energy and small-scale renewables across the country. States are “graded” on an A to F scale depending on their policies – and America’s grades just keep getting better.

Freeing the Grid net metering rank image via Freeing the Grid
Freeing the Grid net metering rank image via Freeing the Grid

Sustaining Solar Energy’s Surge

Thanks to plummeting prices, solar power installations are surging across the US, especially among middle class families. But with many state incentive programs set to expire in coming years, progressive net metering and interconnection policies need to be in place in order to sustain the solar boom.

“Renewable resources are now at the scale and cost necessary to allow them to be a real and growing part of our energy landscape,” said Adam Browning, Vote Solar executive director.

Now that we’ve built this new energy economy, it’s critical we keep the way clear for Americans to keep going solar with strong net metering and interconnection policies.”

Net metering is the more controversial and thus better-known policy. At its most basic, net metering means homes or businesses who have installed their own solar systems are paid in full for the electricity they generate but don’t consume and put back onto the grid. Net metering threatens many existing utility business models and has led to high-visibility fights in states like Arizona, California, and Colorado.

By comparison, interconnection is the more boring of the two, often not even registering a blip on most people’s radar screens. However, it may be the more important policy for the future of solar energy. Interconnection procedures are the rules a solar system must follow in order to “plug” into the grid, meaning net metering may not even come into play until solar panels can interconnect.

Good Grades On Net Metering & Interconnection

But enough with the wonky background – let’s get to the good news. More than two-thirds of US states now receive an A or B grade on net metering, with zero states getting a worse grade in 2013 than in 2012. In order to get an A or B, customers must receive full retail value for electricity contributed to the grid, and the state must maintain several other pro-solar policies.

The results for interconnection are a bit less impressive – while half of US states received an A or B grade, the rest are in need of significant improvement. In order to get an A or B, states must maintain good interconnection rules that incorporate best practices, with few or no customers blocked from interconnecting their systems.

Many states should be commended for having good policies in place, but four in particular, aka the “head of the class” states, lead the nation. California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Utah (surprisingly) received top grades in both net metering and interconnection policy. California, the epicenter of America’s clean tech market, and Massachusetts, home to one of the country’s fastest-growing green economies, aren’t a surprise, but Utah and Oregon seem primed for solar growth.

Freeing the Grid also recognized Washington as its “most improved” state, with a big jump from a D to a B in interconnection procedures by removing unnecessary requirements and procedures for smaller systems and expediting review of larger systems.

Best Practices Light The Way Forward

America is just now starting its transition to a clean economy. Renewables, and solar energy in particular, are becoming a real part of a distributed generation power system that moves toward grid freedom away from a traditional infrastructure of centralized fossil fuel generation and hundreds of miles of inefficient transmission lines. With nearly 20 best practices listed for states to emulate, the path forward is clear.

“Policy design on the frontiers of our fast-changing clean energy marketplace can be a challenge to get right,” said Jane Weissman, IREC president and CEO.

Freeing the Grid helps policymakers and other stakeholders make better sense of best practices and what needs to be done in their own state to clear the way for a 21st century approach to energy.”

Freeing the Grid net metering rank image via Freeing the Grid

This article, 4 States Lead US In Freeing The Grid For Distributed Solar Energy, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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Solar Means Business: Top 25 US Corporate Solar Energy Users

by Silvio Marcacci

Walmart solar panels
Walmart solar panel image via CleanTechnica

Everyone knows solar energy equals environmental benefits, but did you know solar also adds up to a competitive business advantage for some of America’s largest corporations?

US businesses are installing solar panels at breakneck speed to cut energy costs and improve their bottom line, according to the Solar Means Business 2013” report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Vote Solar.

From Big Box retailers to industrial manufacturers and commercial real estate developers, installing solar energy makes cents for America’s most well-known and efficiently run businesses.

A “Who’s Who” Of America’s Biggest Businesses

Since the inaugural Solar Means Business report in 2012, more than 1,000 megawatts (MW) of new solar photovoltaic (PV) panels have been installed on the rooftops of U.S. businesses, non-profits, and government buildings.

“The list of companies moving to clean, affordable solar energy reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the most successful corporations in America,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA President and CEO.

In fact, the 3,380MW of cumulative commercial solar PV deployment at 32,800 facilities across the US installed through the first two quarters of 2013 represent an increase of more than 40% compared to the same time last year.

While this solar boom for businesses has been wide, it’s also been deep. The 25 companies with the most total solar capacity have more than 445MW of generation installed at 950 different locations – enough to power 73,400 average homes and significantly more than 2012, when the top 25 companies only had 300MW at 730 facilities.

SEIA and Vote Solar contacted every company on the Fortune 100 list and collected data from public databases to compile the report, which only counts on-site PV systems directly supplying power to company facilities, not solar systems selling power to the wholesale electricity market.

Low Solar Energy Costs + Stable Power Prices = Big Business

So what’s driving this shift? As with most business decisions, it comes down to good economics – becoming more profitable through profitable projects with a quick return on investment.

Average Solar Energy PV System Price Decline
Average Solar Energy PV System Price Decline chart via SEIA

Electricity costs represent the single-largest operating expense for most companies, but solar panel prices have fallen 40% since 2010 and new financing models have reduced up-front investment costs, meaning companies can incorporate solar power below local retail utility rates and save money almost immediately.

Installing solar also empowers companies to hedge against volatile utility prices. Once their rooftop solar system is installed or they finalize a solar power purchase agreement (PPA), a portion of their energy bills are locked in, and the company can focus on other changing costs of doing business.

Walmart Dominates The List

But enough about why business are investing in solar, let’s take a look at which corporations are leading the charge. Unsurprisingly, Walmart dominates every major category in Solar Means Business, with 89.43MW of installed capacity (more than twice their closest competitor) across 215 total solar energy systems (60 more than the runner-up) in 12 states.

US Business Solar Energy Capacity
US Business Solar Energy Capacity via SEIA

The only category Walmart doesn’t dominate is overall percentage of facilities on company land. IKEA took home those honors, with a whopping 89% of solar-powered facilities, good for fifth place in installed capacity with 35MW and sixth place in total installed systems with 39 in 20 states.

A majority of the top companies are Big Box brands, but some notable exceptions stick out, including Apple and Johnson & Johnson ranking fourth and seventh on total capacity, while Walgreens and Safeway ranked second and eight respectively on total installations.

Even though the report is prioritizes on-site systems that supply power directly to company facilities, SEIA also tips its hat to commercial real estate developers building solar but not consuming the generated electricity themselves. Developers like Prologis, with 79MW across 34 installations, often focus on strip malls and retail outlets, helping tenants go green.

Solar-Powered Businesses, Right Around The Corner

Solar power is definitely adding up to bigger profits for US businesses, but the biggest benefit of this fast-expanding market may also be normalizing the technology for consumers – perhaps why 92% of American voters support developing more solar energy.

117 million people in 30 states now live within 20 miles of at least one of the installations analyzed by Solar Means Business, meaning one in three Americans can potentially interact with a green (and profitable) business every day.

“For years, the promise of solar was always ‘just around the corner” added Adam Browning of Vote Solar. “Well solar has turned the corner and found itself on Main Street, USA.”

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This article, Solar Means Business: Top 25 US Corporate Solar Energy Users, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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California Passes 600MW Shared Renewables Program

by Silvio Marcacci

Just when it seemed like the outlook for renewables in California couldn’t get any brighter, the state legislature has passed a bill that will open up access to the 75% of its residents unable to install clean energy on their property.

SB 43, also known as the “shared renewables bill” passed the State Assembly and Senate yesterday, and now heads to Governor Jerry Brown for signature into law.

Shared renewables graphic via California Shared Renewables

The bill immediately creates the largest shared renewables program in the US and could supercharge California’s clean energy economy — all without any state subsidies or extra costs to non-participating residents.

Shared Renewables
Shared renewables image via California Shared Renewables

New Access To Renewables For Millions Of Residents

California’s Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program, as the shared renewables program is officially called, allows any customer of the state’s three largest utilities to purchase up to 100% renewable electricity for their home or businesses. Cumulative investments will be capped at 600 megawatts (MW) and the program will sunset in 2019.

For context, California installed 521MW of solar during the second quarter of 2013 — an all-time record for any one state in a three-month period. Considering any new renewables capacity created by the shared renewables program would be in addition to the state’s 33% renewable portfolio standard, this could theoretically push the state’s annual solar installation record further than ever before.

Buying renewable power on the electricity market isn’t a new idea, but California’s shared renewables program and the customers it would reach bring a few new twists to the scene. To start, the program targets people without property suitable to install clean energy systems – renters, business owners who lease offices, those with shaded roofs, people in homeowner associations, and so on.

“SB 43 will allow the millions of Californians who cannot install their own solar unit, windmill, or other renewable power generation system to obtain renewable energy through their utility,” said State Senator Lois Wolk, who sponsored the legislation.

Consumers from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and Southern California Edison (SCE) will be able invest in renewable energy by buying shares of the electricity generated by new projects up to 20MW in size, at a locked-in price that’s added to their existing electricity bill as a credit.

Shared Renewables Benefit All – Even Big Utilities

Since the subscription price includes a credit to the utility for grid use, any increased transmission and distribution costs aren’t spread to other ratepayers who may not be participating in shared renewables investments. And, the program avoids the fight over net metering because utilities aren’t worried about paying ratepayers back for power they generate but don’t use themselves.

While the program is capped at 600MW total, 100MW of that total must be reserved for residential consumers ,and 100MW of new renewable energy projects less than 1MW in size must be built in disadvantaged communities – two provisions that generated a diverse band of support as the bill wound its way through the legislature.

Advocacy organization Vote Solar estimates the bill will create around 6,000 new green jobs, allow 20,000 residential ratepayers to participate, and generate over $2.2 billion in economic activity within just a few years.

California added more than 9,000 green jobs in second quarter of 2013, so while the state didn’t need any help holding onto its lead as the epicenter of America’s clean tech market, shared renewables could cement that status for years to come.

This article, California Passes 600MW Shared Renewables Program, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.