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DER Solutions Emerge from Utility Rate Changes

Alex Eller — March 18, 2016

electric meterAs debates around solar PV net metering and other distributed energy resources (DER) compensation programs continue around the world, there is great uncertainty for many vendors. These compensation mechanisms and programs provide stability and guaranteed revenue streams that are essential for many DER business models. While the reduction or termination of net metering programs may be detrimental in the short term, these policies are likely to be replaced with rate structures that more accurately reflect the costs to serve customers in a given location at a given time. Various DER technologies can provide customers with unprecedented flexibility to respond to changing rate structures to benefit both the grid as a whole and their power bills. Leading vendors are already working to offer innovative solutions that combine multiple technologies into an optimized, flexible DER solution.  

The Hawaii Connection

The rapid growth of Hawaii’s solar PV market over the past several years has resulted in state regulators ending the utility’s net metering program in October 2015. The program was replaced with two new options that allow customers to be compensated below the retail rate for energy sent back to the grid, or keep all the energy they generate onsite and gain faster access to grid interconnection. Although this change is likely to slow solar PV installations in the near term, it opens up vast new opportunities for other DER to help customers save money while improving the efficiency of the grid. Vendors have already responded with new offerings tailored to these rate structures. Late last month, SolarCity introduced their Smart Energy Home offering, which includes solar PV, battery storage, smart electric water heaters, and a smart thermostat designed to maximize solar PV generation and self-consumption. The system automatically modifies energy usage and storage based on how much solar power is available to prevent energy from being exported to the grid in accordance with the utility’s new rate structures.

While SolarCity’s solution may be the first to offer this specific suite of technologies to customers, it is not the only company looking to capitalize on rate structure changes and consumers’ desire for control over their home energy systems. Across the Pacific Ocean, Australian telecommunications company Telstra recently announced plans to roll out a home solar plus storage solution to the millions of customers it already serves in Australia. This plan is part of a whole-home connectivity package that also includes Internet and phone. Telstra has the advantage of a large customer base and well-established customer support to help expand its offering as solar compensation programs wind down throughout the country in the coming years.

Global Trend

Utilities around the world are also getting in on the action, with companies in Vermont, Germany, Australia, and Arizona looking to offer integrated DER solutions to their customers. Perhaps the most intriguing vision for this type of offering comes from Tucson Electric Power, where CEO David Hutchens recently discussed the possibility of offering a type of “premium energy service” that may involve the utility owning and operating a whole suite of DER—including solar, storage, electric vehicle chargers, and more—based on customer needs and wants. These innovative offerings from various stakeholders in the industry are just the beginning of a post net-metering world where DER can provide increasing value to both customers and to the grid as a whole.

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