Navigant Research Blog

New EV Chargers Balance Solar, Home Power Demand

— October 30, 2015

Homeowners looking to minimize their carbon footprint and reduce their energy costs often buy plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in tandem with solar panels. In most instances, any excess solar power produced is sent to the grid at a fixed price per kilowatt-hour or subtracted from the households’s overall power demand via net metering.

However, new residential chargers from electric vehicle (EV) charging equipment manufacturers Etrel and Circontrol have advanced load monitoring features that enable EV charging to automatically be timed with residential solar power production. Both companies exhibited their products at the recent eCarTec conference in Munich, Germany, which featured automotive companies, Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, and EV charging hardware and software companies from across the globe.

Etrel, which hails from Slovenia, continues to impress me with its ability to stay at the forefront of EV charging management technology. When I first met with them nearly 2 years ago, the company had the most sophisticated backend EV software platform. Etrel’s residential Smartcharger is paired with a load monitoring device that senses the power draw from the rest of the home as well as any power being produced by a home solar array. Homeowners can program the Smartcharger to optimize charging for when solar power is being generated, or allow the power to be sold back to the grid if that would have greater economic benefit. The sensor detects the overall household power demand and varies the vehicle charging rate to ensure that the maximum amount of household power draw is never reached.

This feature seems obvious, yet it is only now arriving in residential EV chargers. Etrel’s Rok Kralj said the charger/power monitoring product will be available in 2016. He also said the company has sold several hundred units to date, split between residential and commercial chargers.

Similarly, Circontrol of Barcelona, Spain showcased its eHome residential charger, which also dynamically varies the vehicle charging rate depending on what is going on in the home. The company’s BeOn sensor, due out in January, is coupled with the eHome charger and monitors home energy consumption to make sure that the EV charging rate doesn’t add a load that would surpass the recommended safe level. And as with Etrel’s product, the sensor detects when solar power is being produced and will time EV charging based on customer’s programmed preferences.

Both Circontrol and Etrel include mobile and web applications that let consumers see how much power is being used and generated and also allow them to schedule EV charging. Circontrol offers both commercial alternating current and fast direct current chargers.

Some utilities are similarly experimenting with timing EV charging power output to the level of solar being produced in the area so that customers can similarly boast about driving on 100% renewable power. While this is a premium feature today, power producers can prevent excess wind or solar production from being wasted by aggregating EV charging loads.

Despite operating in a smaller EV market than North America, European EV charging companies including Circontrol and Etrel continue to innovate in the charging market through intelligent hardware and software platforms. It would benefit EV owners if global competitors kept pace with these load balancing features.

 

Solar Lessons from the North of Chile

— October 30, 2015

Northern Chile is dominated by the Atacama Desert, and other than its large mining industry, the location is otherwise isolated. To supply this area with electricity, Chile established a local grid called Sistema Interconectado del Norte Grande (SING) that is segregated from the main grid, known as Sistema Interconectado Central (SIC).

Traditionally, electricity generation in the SING network relied on relatively expensive imports of coal, natural gas (NG), and diesel. Of the 4.97 GW of installed capacity in 2014, coal represented 42.2% and NG 47.5%. As solar energy prices dropped, the region became a hot spot for solar developers because it offered a perfect combination of high electricity prices in an area with the world’s leading insulation levels. A significant number of developers pulled the trigger and began the construction of their plants, planning to sign power purchase agreements once the project was commissioned.

The problem is that every company had the same idea at the same time. Solar projects have mushroomed in the past year. By October 2015, SING had 157 MW of installed solar capacity, 80% of which was commissioned in 2015. Solar now makes up 3% of the total generation capacity, and that was before the commissioning of First Solar’s 141 MW Luz del Norte plant, which will be the largest in Latin America. This plant is in the late stages of the construction process and it is expected to begin operations before the end of 2015.

Impact on Electricity Prices

The impact of new solar capacity on daytime wholesale electricity prices has been staggering. The average hourly wholesale electricity price in October 2015 dropped 42% between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., whereas it fell only 10% in 2014 and 16% in 2013. In October 2014, prices averaged $54/MWh between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. versus $67/MWh throughout the rest of the day. By October 2015, the average day-to-night differential widened to $48/MWh between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. versus $78/MWh in the rest of the day.

Solar developers now find themselves in a predicament. Daytime electricity prices are expected to fall even further as the projects currently under construction come online, creating a death spiral that would threaten the economics of all plants and the sustainability of the whole industry. But no company wants to throw in the towel and write off all of its investment to date. The question is, who will move first?

 

Ecova’s Retroficiency Acquisition Spurs DSM Momentum

— October 30, 2015

Data analytics for energy efficiency and demand-side management (DSM) programs is a relatively new trend in the energy industry. Data analytics can be used in residential DSM programs to teach consumers how their home is using energy (by appliance level in some cases) and in commercial and industrial (C&I) DSM programs to help find opportunities for energy savings in large buildings. Data analytics can even be used in retail, restaurant chains, or in other small and medium businesses in order to make operations more efficient, as has been seen in the work done by PlotWatt.

Many of the companies that have been advocating data analytics for energy efficiency are either startups (working on a handful of small deployments) or pilots or large companies with the resources to dabble in energy management, such as Apple with HomeKit. Because of this, data analytics as a solution for DSM programs is still in the early stages of market adoption

Acquisition Makes for New Player

That is, until October 14, 2015 when Ecova announced its acquisition of Retroficiency. A building efficiency analytics startup founded 6 years ago, Retroficiency initially worked at streamlining onsite audits, which quickly evolved into its current Building Efficiency Intelligence software platform to enable utility-scale customer targeting and engagement. Ecova, a large provider of energy and sustainability management services, has a behind-the-scenes style platform that helps utilities manage DSM programs. In addition to developing joint solutions for utility customers, Ecova will be able to use Retroficiency’s data analytics capabilities to provide its C&I clients—which collectively have more than 700,000 sites in North America—with better information on where they can save energy, where to prioritize efficiency investments, and how to manage energy costs.

Ecova’s acquisition of Retroficiency sends an important message to other players in the energy industry that there is value in data analytics for energy efficiency, which means even more when considering that Ecova has the backing of a larger energy efficiency company. In 2014, Ecova itself was acquired by Cofely USA, a subsidiary of French utility company Engie (GDF Suez). The depth of experience, geographic reach, and expanse of resources that a company like Engie can bring to the data analytics market through subsidiaries like Ecova can mean real growth and development in a very similar way to what the home energy management market saw when Google acquired Nest.

Furthermore, Engie also happens to be an investor in Tendril, a Boulder, Colorado-based startup offering a cloud-based energy services management platform for helping energy providers better engage residential customers. With Ecova’s acquisition of Retroficiency, the company now has the resources to offer a combined residential and C&I platform to utilities that can counter Opower and Firstfuel’s new platform. The newly joined forces of Ecova and Retroficiency not only signal to others the value of data analytics, but also bring to the market a big name in energy and increased competition, which could give the data analytics market the momentum it needs to take off and become a vital part of energy efficiency.

 

California’s Role in the Rapidly Expanding Community Solar Market

— October 28, 2015

Community solar (also known as shared solar) has become a hot topic across the United States over the last couple of years as residences and businesses seek alternatives to conventional energy sources. According to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report released in April, about half of all homes and businesses in the United States cannot host a PV system of adequate size on their property. The community solar market has the potential to increase PV deployment by 5.5 GW-11 GW from 2015 to 2020.

Today, 13 states and the District of Columbia have shared renewables policies in place, and many other states are considering programs. Utilities across the country are embracing community solar, viewing it as an opportunity to retain their customers and compete against the burgeoning self-generation solar PV market by providing a utility 100% solar option. Navigant colleague Richelle Elberg discussed one such project in a blog earlier this month detailing how Tucson Electric Power’s Residential Solar Program is a win-win for solar proponents and utilities.  

Navigant Consulting is currently collaborating on the Community Solar Value Project, one of 15 projects chosen for funding in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative under its Solar Market Pathways Program. The project aims to increase the scale, reach, and value of utility-based community solar programs through project design and the integration of demand response and storage.

California’s Role

California is one of the four states paving the way. In late 2013, the California state legislature signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 43, the Green Tariff Shared Renewables (GTSR) Program bill. The GTSR Program is intended to expand access to eligible renewable energy resources to all ratepayers who can’t access the benefits of onsite generation and to also create a mechanism where customers can meet their electricity needs from eligible renewable energy resources. SB 43 set a statewide program cap of 600 MW as well as utility caps. It required California’s investor owned utilities (IOUs) to propose a voluntary shared renewables program to the California Public Utilities Commission.

SB 43 Utility Program Caps

Andrea Blog Table

(Source: Navigant Consulting)

Decision 15-01-051, published on January 29, 2015, established the steps for California IOUs to implement the GTSR Program, including outlining the two program components:

  • Green Tariff (GT): Under a GT, a customer pays the difference between their current generation charge and a charge that reflects the cost of procuring 50%-100% of solar generation for their electric needs.
  • Enhanced Community Renewables (ECR): Under an ECR, a customer agrees to purchase a share of a local solar project directly from a solar developer in exchange for a credit from their utility for the customer’s avoided generation procurement and for their share of the benefit of the solar development.

The rate design approved by this decision ensures that utility customers not participating in the GTSR Program do not bear any of the costs of the program, an important point of discussion at utilities developing shared solar programs across the country. All Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) from GTSR projects are transferred to the IOUs for retirement on behalf of participating customers. Many community solar programs currently do not retire the RECs on the customer’s behalf, which may become a point of greater discussion in the future.

Projects are to be located within the IOU service territory and within reasonable proximity to participants of the GTSR Program. GTSR projects should be sized between 500 kW and 20 MW, with smaller projects considered at a later program phase.

Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric are currently in the process of rolling out their programs. Once launched, the programs will be open to new subscribers until January 1, 2019, or until the individual utility capacity caps are met.

 

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