Study Delves into Opportunities for Sustained Distributed Solar Market Growth

Study Delves into Opportunities for Sustained Distributed Solar Market Growth

By Mercom Capital Group

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has published a new report, titled “Bridges to New Solar Business Models: Opportunities to Increase and Capture the Value of Distributed Solar Photovoltaics,” that evaluates opportunities for utilities and solar companies to work together to unlock the full value of distributed solar for customers and the grid.

Solar PV are growing rapidly in the U.S. — by the end of 2013, over 12 GW of PV were in operation, an 80 percent increase since the end of 2010, with grid-connected customer-sited installations totaling more than 50 percent of nationwide installed capacity. Yet, nationally, solar produces only 0.2 percent of electricity generation - still far from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative target of 14 percent of electricity generation from solar by 2030.

Solar policies to date have typically focused on value flowing primarily to individual customers and third-party solar companies who install distributed solar PV systems, while utilities associate those systems with transaction costs, grid operation challenges, and revenue loss. As a result, fierce debates between solar companies and utilities about the future of these policies are playing out across the country.

“Accelerating adoption further and creating a sustainable long-term distributed solar PV market will require taking a holistic perspective,” said RMI principal Virginia Lacy, a co-author on the report. “Major opportunities exist to build on current growth strategies to expand the market that cannot be considered if utilities or solar companies choose to act on their own.”

RMI, with support from the Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative, worked with both utilities and solar companies to highlight approaches for increasing value of distributed solar PV with three essential “building blocks” for new solar business models that decrease costs and expand benefits as solar is integrated into the electric grid. Those building blocks include:

• Making distributed solar PV available to a much broader customer base with new options for procurement

• Designing distributed solar systems so they better align with customer and grid needs — including deploying distributed solar PV projects when and where they are most needed on the grid

• Leveraging solar PV adoption to increase the uptake of other distributed energy resource technologies — such as energy efficiency, battery energy storage, demand response, and smart thermostats—- to meet the needs of both customers and the grid

"Current growth strategies have helped the distributed solar PV market scale considerably, but major opportunities exist to expand the market further and could be missed if market players continue to view the picture through a narrow lens,” said RMI manager and report co-author Mathias Bell. “If done well, solar companies and utilities working together to deploy solutions can create significant additional value, which will help provide solutions to ongoing debates and accelerate the adoption of distributed solar.”

While addressing some of these issues will require both pricing realignment and regulatory model reform, these reforms may take significant time and resources. Meanwhile, utilities, solar companies, and regulators can design and implement components of solar business model strategies today that provide a bridge to the future.

If done well — necessarily bringing both solar companies and utilities together around the table — new solar business models can successfully accelerate, optimize, and sustain distributed solar photovoltaics (DPV) adoption. Aligning the interests of these stakeholders will involve two major threads:

  • Maximize the delivered value of DPV to customers and the electricity system by further decreasing costs and increasing benefits
  • Create new business models that enable and incent solar companies, utilities, and customers to optimize and capture that expanded pool of DPV value through win-win-win opportunities

To date, reducing solar’s upfront capital cost to achieve low-cost deployment onto the grid — without accounting for the operational benefits and costs of integration into the grid — has been a significant solar market development strategy.

Further cost reductions are possible, especially related to DPV’s soft costs, but the most significant of them will require involvement from both solar companies and utilities together to achieve. Similarly, currently untapped operational benefits that occur post-interconnection can create additional value streams for customers, solar companies, and utilities that evolve from maximizing value for individual customers with DPV to optimizing value more broadly across such customers and the system as a whole. However, defining, valuing, verifying, and capturing those value streams will require cooperation among stakeholders.

While addressing some of these issues will require both pricing realignment and regulatory model reform, reform will take significant time and resources to unfold. Meanwhile, utilities, solar companies, and regulators can design and implement components of solar business model strategies today that provide a bridge to the future. These “bridge” business model strategies can start to create and capture value, while also providing best practices and lessons learned to inform broader reform efforts.

Published with permission from Mercom Capital Group

SEMI
The Grid 
December 15, 2014