Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Solar PV: The true value of distributed energy

Earlier this month, the decision of APS – Arizona’s largest electric utility – to propose two major changes to its net metering program, one which would do away with the program entirely, has become the latest lightning rod fueling the growing tension between utilities and solar PV. In California, there is significant debate about whether to raise net metering caps. In Texas, CPS Energy – the largest municipally owned utility in the country – has proposed a net metering alternative that some fear will substantially reduce the value of solar.RMI Outlet
What is driving these conflicts? One major factor is that distributed energy resources, including distributed solar photovoltaics (DPV), have different physical, operational, and economic characteristics than conventional power plants. Such differences create potentially significant misalignments when they are added into a system designed for decades around the characteristics of conventional power plants.
Lack of understanding a barrier
At the root of all this is the lack of a clear understanding of the actual costs of integrating DPV onto the grid, and likewise, of the actual values that solar can provide to the grid. Without that foundation of understanding, it’s impossible to fairly evaluate policies such as net metering or its alternatives, and debates become based on opinion rather than fact.
An early step in creating that solid foundation is gleaning collective insight from the plethora of individual studies that have sought to identify and quantify the values DPV provides and, to a lesser extent, the costs it imposes on the system. Over the past several months, a team from the Electricity Innovation Lab (eLab) has done just that – reviewing more than 15 studies and synthesizing the results and implications in a new report, A Review of Solar PV Benefit & Cost Studies, released today. Here’s what we found:
  1. No study comprehensively evaluated the benefits and costs of DPV, although many acknowledge additional sources of benefit or cost and many agree on the broad categories of benefit and cost. There is broad recognition that some benefits and costs may be difficult or impossible to quantify, and some accrue to different stakeholders.

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