Pilot projects now underway in California, New York and New England
Online maps showing solar developers where they can locate their projects to be assured of the shortest possible waiting periods for getting them connected to the grid. Extra incentives that reward developers and customers for solar rooftops sited where they are most needed to prop up grid reliability.
A new brief from the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) envisions a future, not so far away, in which the location of new solar installations becomes a key component of project planning, solar incentives and rate structures. Rather than having solar deployment rely solely on customer demographics and solar company business plans -- as it does now -- locational strategies could provide market signals to direct new projects to or away from specific places on the grid.
"While solar generation accounts for a small percentage of power in the United States today, specific areas of the country—parts of Hawaii, California, and New Jersey—have already put large numbers of installations on some of their distribution lines," said Mike Taylor, SEPA's director of research and a co-author of the brief, "In Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, we're seeing high-penetration levels and restrictions on new installations that are limiting solar market development."
The paper explores the background reasons for this emerging problem -- the current market dynamics of solar deployment in which locational issues are not considered -- and a range of potential strategies for utilities to provide innovative options that could benefit all stakeholders. The ideas outlined range from providing more public information on solar penetration levels on distribution lines, to location-based interconnection processes and financial incentives, to new methods for allocating costs for distribution infrastructure upgrades.
Pilot projects now underway in California, New York and New England are also discussed.
While some locational deployment strategies could raise issues of customer equity and grid access, Taylor said, the concept opens a cooperative way for utilities and solar developers to support greater solar build-out at potentially lower costs and greater industry and customer satisfaction.
Expenses associated with the deployment of solar in suboptimal areas could be avoided, he said. At the same time, assorted benefits that solar provides—reduced line losses, delivery system and generation investment deferral and congestion relief, among others—could be exploited to support utility operations and grid reliability.
A free Executive Summary of "Utility Strategies for Influencing Locational Deployment of Solar," is available on the SEPA website, www.solarelectricpower.org.