Navigant Research Blog

A Microcosm of Massachusetts Solar Policy

— June 19, 2015

I grew up in Massachusetts, went away for school, spent my 20s exploring other parts of the country, and came back home to settle down and start a family. Working in the energy industry, I closely follow state policy from a professional perspective. However, my personal and extracurricular worlds have also now become entwined in the ongoing soap opera that is the Massachusetts solar policy and its politics: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

For the first 8 years of home ownership, I lived in a condo, where I could not control what was done with the exterior of the structure. I would have loved to install solar while there, but it was not possible due to the building restrictions. I did get the condo association to undertake an energy audit with the local utility, which resulted in several thousands of dollars of savings on our condo fees. This was before Community Solar came into being, which has since flourished in Massachusetts and is perfect for the condo/apartment dweller who can’t install on-site panels.

Two years ago, my family moved into our own house in Franklin, Massachusetts. Literally, the first day we arrived, we had an energy audit and I contacted a solar company to get an estimate for a rooftop array. Without any utility bill history, the company had to estimate our electricity usage based on average square footage values and created a proposal. Knowing that our household would be more efficient than the average, I decided to hold off until we got some real data for a year to avoid unnecessarily overbuilding the solar. It turned out that we use about half the electricity of a typical house our size in our area (according to our OPower report), so it was a good thing we didn’t take the plunge right away.

Worth the Wait

After a year of data collection, I started compiling the plethora of mail offers that we received from various solar companies in preparation for getting some new quotes. Then, I heard about the new concept of municipal solar aggregation, promoted by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center as Solarize Massachusetts. I figured as long as I was going to do it, I might as well take advantage of bulk pricing and get others in town to benefit from solar, as well. I spearheaded the Franklin Solar Challenge, where a committee of community volunteers put together an RFP and selected a vendor to work with who provided the best combination of pricing, product options, and service. I got my system installed in April after the harsh New England winter and got my first utility bill with $0 due and a bill credit! Over 100 homeowners have expressed interest, and we are on our way to getting the best bulk pricing available for everyone who participates.

 The Results

Brett house

(Source: Brett Feldman) 

But Wait… There’s More

The other side to the solar story in Mass is the fact that the net metering caps in certain utility territories are being hit now, meaning that no new projects above residential-scale can be installed. The state government and stakeholders are trying to work out a solution, but in the meantime things are on hold. I am on the Town Council in Franklin, the elected governing body of the town. We own a large piece of property along a highway that would be perfect for solar development, but due to the cap, it can’t be done at this time and the space might be used for condos and office buildings instead.

So there is a personal story for you that offers insight into the various aspects of solar drama in Massachusetts.

 

Solar PV on Leased Buildings: Drivers, Barriers, and Solutions

— June 17, 2015

Andrea Romano co-authored this blog.

Navigant Consulting works with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Better Buildings Alliance (BBA) to understand barriers and solutions to promoting solar PV adoption. Currently, we are focusing on solar PV on leased buildings. We have teamed with the SunShot Initiative to develop a request for information to better understand the barriers, benefits, and solutions to installing solar on leased buildings. We are encouraging those active in the solar industry to voice their opinions so that we can develop tool to meet the market’s needs.

Why Leased Buildings?

As of 2012, there were 5.6 million commercial buildings in the United States, comprising 87 billion SF of floor space and representing a huge sustainability and clean energy opportunity. However, a large portion of these buildings are multi-tenanted leased spaces facing a split incentive in that the building owner does not typically pay the energy bills, but would bear the upgrade costs. A number of green leasing initiatives have developed concepts, tools, and guides to overcome this barrier for energy efficiency, but have not focused on solar PV. As a result, Navigant is focusing on this issue in 2015.

Benefits of Solar PV

In many cases, solar PV benefits both the landlords and tenants; however, the division of the economic and environmental benefits depends on the structure of the building lease. The lists below demonstrate the potential benefits.

Solar Benefits for Landlords

  • Reduces operating costs and exposure to volatility of energy prices (due to reduced utility electricity consumption)
  • Enhances marketability of the building
  • Lowers occupancy costs, which facilitates the ability to charge higher rent
  • Improves tenant retention due to lower operating expenses

Solar Benefits for Tenants

  • Lowers electricity costs
  • Stabilizes electricity costs
  • Supports corporate sustainability goals
  • Demonstrates environmental responsibility to employees and the community

In general, for commercial buildings, reducing operating expenses through the installation of a PV system can provide a hedge against escalating energy prices. Buildings may see lower costs of capital and higher market value because of this reduced risk. Depending on how the lease is structured, some or all of these benefits can lead to increased revenue for the building owner. Additionally, solar helps diversify revenue streams, reducing the overall volatility of the property’s income.

Barriers to Solar PV

A number of factors affect the growth of the commercial solar market, with the greater obstacles being the lack of project standardization and high transaction costs. Within the commercial real estate market, owner-tenant facilities in particular have an added level of complexity:

  • Split incentive: Energy costs often paid by tenants and solar PV system is purchased and owned by building owner
  • Short payback requirement: Building owners want 2- to 3-year payback
  • Timeframe discrepancy between building lease and solar PV system life: Solar PV system has a 20- to 25-year life, which is often longer than building leases
  • Property owner creditworthiness: Many properties owned by LLCs without publicly rated investment quality
  • Property ownership entity: Determines 30% Business Energy Investment Tax Credit eligibility

Overcoming the Barriers

While many barriers to installing solar PV on leased buildings exist, companies are developing innovative solutions to address or overcome these challenges. The figure below summarizes the ideas by system ownership. Navigant Consulting is currently working with the DOE and BBA on a guide summarizing these strategies, and it will be available later this summer.

System Ownership Strategies

diagram

(Source: Navigant Consulting)

 

Novel Microgrid Architectures Face Regulatory Hurdles – Even in New York and California

— June 4, 2015

If I had to pick two states that are leading the charge on reinventing electric utilities, they would be New York and California. Yet, even in these state laboratories of regulatory reform, novel forms of distribution networks (often referred to as microgrids) that rely upon the inherent advantages of direct current (DC) are facing obstacles.

The core challenge facing DC distribution networks lies with the need for standards and open grid architectures that can help integrate the increasing diversity of resources being plugged into retail power grids. This, among other issues, is the focus of the first major conference sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) on DC distribution networks. The conference will take place in Atlanta, Georgia, from June 7 through June 10.

In New York, Pareto Energy of Washington, D.C. obtained preliminary engineering approval from Consolidated Edison (and a $2 million grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority [NYSERDA]) to install its patented GridLink microgrid controller at the 12.8 MW combined heat and power (CHP) plant that serves Kings Plaza Shopping Center on the Brooklyn waterfront.  GridLink converts power from each generation source (including grid power) from alternating current (AC) to DC, collects all the power on a common DC bus, converts that DC power back to AC, and distributes power to any load (including those on the utility grid).  All the while, each power source is electrically isolated. In short, GridLink creates a non-synchronous plug-and-play microgrid.

Although Kings Plaza has never been connected to Consolidated Edison’s grid, it provides electric and thermal energy to the center at costs less than half of equivalent utility services. Under the plan, 8 MW of low-cost power from Kings Plaza’s CHP unit will be exported to the utility grid, which may be utilized to serve nearby low-income communities during a major power outage. Despite these potential benefits, some regulatory snags have delayed the project. Pareto has also filed a petition with the New York Public Service Commission, claiming discrimination against its lower cost option to traditional power delivery infrastructure to meet contingency requirements for reliability within the Consolidated Edison service territory.

The View from the Other Coast

In California, the issues are different, but they also involve DC. One case involves Bosch, which was awarded a California Energy Commission grant of $2.8 million grant to develop a high-penetration solar PV DC microgrid at an American Honda Motor Co. parts distribution center in Southern California. The project is designed to validate the efficiency performance benefits of a patented system allowing it to directly connect DC power flowing from solar PV to LED lighting and DC ventilation systems located within the building, as well as a DC energy storage device. The benefits of DC attached to this project include lower installation and operating costs. In addition, this project is pioneering the application of a DC distribution network within existing building codes in order to boost reliability.

While Bosch observes it has not run into any problems with building codes or other such potential obstacles to its DC building grid business model, it has identified an interesting dilemma. Since state subsidies for both solar PV and energy storage are linked to the size of the inverter interconnecting with the AC grid, it appears DC technologies are being discriminated against, despite the fact they are more efficient and reliable.

In both cases, the status quo is being challenged by new technology revolving around a nonsynchronous microgrid incorporating the advantages of DC.  This is the subject of my next report, Direct Current Distribution Networks, expected to publish later this month.

 

Following Election, U.K. Renewables Policy Plans Come to Light

— June 2, 2015

A couple of weeks after a surprising result in the United Kingdom’s parliamentary election, in which the Conservative Party won a majority, plans for the government’s renewable energy policies are becoming clearer. Although the Conservative Party has governed for the last 5 years, it was part of a coalition, so there is a possibility that significant policy changes will occur.

Amber Rudd Takes the Lead

On May 11, Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Amber Rudd as the United Kingdom’s new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, which was well-received by the renewable energy industry. The renewable energy trade bodies in the United Kingdom (Renewable Energy Association, RenewableUK, and the Solar Trade Association) appeared to have good comments about Rudd, and Nina Skorupska, the chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, had the following comments on Rudd’s appointment.

“Amber Rudd has been a champion of renewables and the low-carbon economy in the past year, and her appointment will do much to allay the fears some may have after the general election … ensuring we meet our targets in the most efficient way … and making sure the UK is leading the way in green jobs and cost effective renewables.”

While RenewableUK, which mainly represents the wind industry, criticized the Conservatives’ manifesto when it was launched, its chief executive, Maria McCaffery, was also pleased by the appointment of Rudd. In a note released to the press, McCaffery said:

“We welcome the positive commitments which she has made on reducing emissions, tackling climate change and protecting the environment. We are looking forward to working with her and showing how all the technologies we represent: onshore wind, offshore wind and wave & tidal energy, can help achieve these aims.”

Onshore Wind on the Chopping Block

The Conservatives’ manifesto included a promise to stop incentives for onshore wind farms and to give local residents more influence in planning approval of the projects. In an interview with the Sunday Times this week, Rudd reiterated the Tories’ manifesto pledge to effectively end the development of new wind farms on U.K. land, outlining her hopes for the new measures to come into force by May 2016. While onshore wind in the United Kingdom can be competitive with fossil generation, the additional requirements to develop a project, like signing a power-purchase agreement, and survive what would be a gruesome planning application process, carry extra risks that few investors would like to face. This is expected to affect Navigant Research’s U.K. wind energy forecast, which is part of the World Wind Energy Market Update 2015 report.

Currently, there are about 7 GW of onshore wind capacity under development. While the onshore wind utility-scale installations are expected to decline, there will be room for companies willing to participate in community-scale projects. Community projects have the double advantage of a guaranteed buyer for the electricity produced while getting local support for the project by sharing the benefits of the wind farm.

A Solar Revolution Underway

While at first look this looks like a step back for the renewable industry, in reality, the winners if this policy is implemented would be all other sectors within the industry. In another interview, Rudd said she hopes to “unleash a new solar revolution” as a government cabinet minister. This seems feasible given that solar PV would become the cheapest source of renewable energy that can be deployed at scale. Other sectors will benefit as well. Some biomass projects would become competitive, and even offshore wind would benefit if the bids in the Contract for Difference (CfD) increase.

 

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