Highlights

  • Developed a new business model to increase the scale, reach, and value of utility-based community solar.
  • Created a plan for the commitment of 20 MW of distributed solar generation in Sacramento Municipal Utility District territory by 2020, and shaped a decision framework for utilities replicating this model.
  • Engaged utilities directly with their customers via community solar to increase the net value and practical integration of distributed solar, as part of the larger project to reinvent utility systems in the 21st century.

Background

The Community Solar Value Project (CSVP) developed a new business model to increase the scale, reach, and value of utility-based community solar. Led by Extensible Energy, LLC, with support from Cliburn and Associates, LLC, Olivine Inc., Navigant Consulting, and Millennium Energy LLC, the project engaged the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), the Public Service Company of New Mexico, and other utilities nationwide to develop and implement improved community solar program designs.

The project was based on the idea that utility-based community solar projects can be designed to help utilities avoid costly engineering solutions and regional-level ancillary services. CSVP focused on market-ready innovations capable of increasing the value of installed solar through strategic siting and design, strategic pricing, and the integration of complementary technologies—such as demand response and storage—into community solar programs.

Utility-owned community solar projects are becoming more prevalent across the United States, especially among publicly owned utilities. Distributed generation sources like solar present real challenges as utilities work to integrate them into the grid. Because solar production is generally higher in the afternoon when the sun’s rays are most direct, utilities must reduce generation from other sources to avoid overloading the grid. As the sun sets, and solar power production decreases, utilities have to ramp up generation from other sources to meet demand. This results in a “duck curve”—a dip in utility-supplied electricity during peak solar generation hours, followed by a large increase in utility-supplied power from other sources in response to the increasing demand. This is also known as demand response.

New approaches to demand response, combined with thermal and battery storage, offer potential solutions to the duck curve, variability risks, and other symptoms of rising solar penetration. The decision framework resulting from CSVP’s project will open market pathways to these solutions while increasing solar deployment and strengthening the grid.

To arrive at a model for high-value community solar program design, CSVP used a combination of research and technical analysis, stakeholder engagement via a utility forum, and pilot work with SMUD.

Utility Engagement

CSVP convened a utility forum to guide this work and ensure replicable and achievable program designs. To explore different aspects of the challenge and examine how leading utilities and stakeholders could improve community solar, CSVP led four utility workshops:

  • Project Kick-Off Meeting on High-Value Community Solar
  • Strategic Program Design for Community Solar
  • The Value of the Solar Triple Play
  • Community Solar Solutions Program Design Workshop

A fifth and final workshop in June 2017 focused on how utilities can more effectively and successfully develop their own community solar projects and programs. At this Community Solar Procurement, Programs, and Pricing workshop, utility representatives, solar developers, and NGOs discussed topics such as customer engagement; successful utility community solar programs; and techniques for communicating with consumers, utility management, and regulatory commissions.

CSVP webinars have explored innovations in technology and regulations expected to be instrumental in growing the utility-drive community solar market:

  • Can Regulation Make Community Solar Better?
  • Thermostat Control for Solar Integration Value
  • Making Solar Carports Happen
  • Community Solar Plus Storage Solutions
  • The Value of Going Local
  • Smarter Procurement for Community Solar Solutions

Resources

Report:
Community Solar Project Ownership & Financing Structure... Community Solar Project Ownership & Financing Structures
Author:  Community Solar Value Project

This working paper aims to help utilities understand their choices for structuring and financing community solar programs.

Tool:
Pricing Model of Interest for Utility-driven Community Solar ... Pricing Model of Interest for Utility-driven Community Solar Programs
Author:  Community Solar Value Project

This table provides a side-by-side comparison of community solar pricing strategies at seven utilities nationwide.

High-Value Community Solar Program Design

In April 2016, CSVP produced one volume of the High-Value Community Solar Program Design Guide, titled Incorporating Demand Response Into Community Solar Programs. The guide is primarily intended as a resource for utility solar program managers, demand response (DR) program managers, and utility planners, demonstrating how different applications of traditional DR programs are evolving to address new high-value opportunities in renewable-energy integration. It covers strategies for including appropriate DR measures for co-marketing to enhance the value of distributed solar, particularly utility-driven community solar. This volume presents case studies, information on costs for DR options, and a scoring method to quantify and classify the attributes of particular options to solve a variety of integration-related issues.

The next volumes of the guide—to be published in late 2017—will cover many other aspects of high-value community solar program design, including strategic solar design and valuation, business model selection and procurement, additional DR and storage solar-plus options, and micro-target marketing and pricing.

Resources

Report:
Incorporating Demand Response into Community Solar Programs Incorporating Demand Response into Community Solar Programs
Author:  Community Solar Value Project

This report assists utility solar program managers in including appropriate demand response measures to enhance the value of distributed solar.