Highlights

  • Developed a statewide strategy for utility-administered solar programs and sustainable models for solar deployment to benefit Virginians and others throughout the Southeast.
  • Assessed existing solar programs for wider-scale deployment and performed technical engineering and business planning studies to identify PV integration impacts across generation, transmission, and distribution systems.
  • Produced an economic study of utility-administered solar, which included an evaluation of the impacts of tax policy on solar deployment and an assessment of soft cost reduction opportunities.
  • Created a solar workforce development strategy.

Background

Headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, Dominion Energy is one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy, with a portfolio of approximately 26,000 megawatts of electric generation; 66,600 miles of natural gas transmission, gathering, storage, and distribution pipelines; and 64,500 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines. The company operates one of the largest natural gas storage systems in the U.S. with approximately 1 trillion cubic feet of capacity, and serves nearly 6 million utility and retail energy accounts.

The ultimate goal for Dominion Energy’s Virginia Solar Pathways Project was to develop a collaborative utility-administered solar strategy for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The process had three main objectives:

  • Integrate existing solar programs with new options appropriate for Virginia’s policy environment and broader economic development objectives.
  • Promote wider deployment of solar within a low retail electric rate environment.
  • Serve as a replicable model for other states with similar policy environments, including the entire Southeast region.

At the outset of this project, Virginia had a nascent solar market. Dominion Energy Virginia offered several solar programs to its retail customers, but its generation fleet in Virginia consisted of just four distributed solar facilities totaling a little more than 1 MW of capacity. The company adopted a goal of developing 400 MW of utility-scale solar capacity by 2020. By the end of its three-year Solar Market Pathways project, Dominion Energy had dozens of solar facilities operational or under development in Virginia, totaling 744 MW of generating capacity. The company’s 2018 Integrated Resource Plan calls for the potential development of 4,720 MW of additional solar capacity by 2033. The parent company, Dominion Energy, has grown to become one of the top 10 investor-owned utility holding companies in terms of ownership of operating and planned solar capacity in 2017.

Dominion Energy’s recent expansion of solar capacity in Virginia is the result of a comprehensive solar strategy. The Virginia Solar Pathways Project report documents Dominion Energy’s solar strategy and puts forth a model for other utilities that wish to increase their ability to manage and administer solar programs and sustainably expand large-scale and distributed solar capacity.

Stakeholder Process

To craft this strategy, Dominion engaged a Core Advisory Team made up of a diverse group of stakeholders from a state government agency, an environmental organization, local community representatives, research and educational institutions, and a solar installation company.

The Core Advisory Team participated in four training sessions in the spring of 2015 to help develop a common understanding of the electric grid, the distribution system, the economics of solar, and soft costs. Advisors received basic training in the areas of transmission and distribution grids, generation resources and technologies, solar program models, market and regulatory issues affecting deployment, and the scientific and engineering aspects of solar PV, including the evolution of solar panel technology within the previous 20 years. The following training materials established a common foundation of technical and regulatory understanding for the Core Advisory Team:

The Core Advisory Team also helped review and guide the four reports included in the Technical Studies section below, and enabled the Virginia Solar Market Pathways Strategy to be shaped by perspectives from different stakeholders, including subject matter experts and researchers with policy and technical expertise.

Resources

Presentation:
Module I: Electric Industry Background Module I: Electric Industry Background
Author:  Dominion Energy Virginia

This presentation provides an introduction to electric power and the electric utility industry.

Presentation:
Module II: Generation Overview Module II: Generation Overview
Author:  Dominion Energy Virginia

This presentation focuses on technologies for electricity generation and how the utility acquires the generation resources needed to meet demand.

Presentation:
Module III: Transmission and Distribution Module III: Transmission and Distribution
Author:  Dominion Energy Virginia

This presentation explains the components of the transmission and distribution systems and how they are operated.

Presentation:
Module IV. Policy, Regulatory and Rates Overview Module IV. Policy, Regulatory and Rates Overview
Author:  Dominion Energy Virginia

This presentation summarizes the policy and regulatory framework governing electric utilities

Presentation:
Photovoltaic Systems Photovoltaic Systems
Author:  Shirshak Dhali

A presentation provided to Virginia stakeholders as an introduction to the concept of solar PV.

Solar Integration Studies

To guide decisions and facilitate the system-wide integration of solar generation, Dominion Energy Virginia commissioned a series of four technical studies and developed a short report summarizing the key takeaways and conclusions of each study:

Report:
Solar PV Integration Study 1: Interconnection Practices and Distribution ... Solar PV Integration Study 1: Interconnection Practices and Distribution System Impacts

This study provides a roadmap for the utility to safely and reliably integrate increasing amounts of distributed generation solar into the distribution system

Solar PV Integration Study 1: Interconnection Practices and Distribution System Impacts: This study provides information about how the distribution system is impacted by a high level of penetration of solar distributed generation (DG), the types of technologies needed to support high penetrations of solar DG, and the costs associated with mitigation and distribution upgrade options. The two most important outcomes of the study were the knowledge gained through benchmarking with other utilities and the simulation modeling of specific subsets of distribution feeders on the company’s distribution network. This simulation modeling quantified the impacts of increasing amounts of solar DG capacity and determined critical levels that could be interconnected without the need for distribution upgrades.

Report:
Solar PV Integration Study 2: Generation and Transmission System ... Solar PV Integration Study 2: Generation and Transmission System Impacts
Author:  Navigant Consulting, Inc.

This study examines how greater quantities of residential and utility-scale solar PV interact with the existing electric generation portfolio.

Solar PV Integration Study 2: Generation and Transmission System Impacts: This study included simulation analyses of Dominion Energy Virginia’s transmission and generation systems under different allocation scenarios of solar DG and large-scale solar throughout the company’s service territory. It provides a preliminary analysis and roadmap for Dominion Energy Virginia to safely and reliably integrate increasing amounts of solar PV into its interconnected transmission and generation system.

Report:
Economic Study of Utility-Administered Solar Programs Economic Study of Utility-Administered Solar Programs

This study evaluates opportunities to reduce soft costs of solar generation, including acquisition and financing.

Economic Study of Utility-Administered Solar Programs: Dominion Energy Virginia partnered with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to complete this study, which reviews three key economic issues for utility-administered solar development:

1. The potential for soft cost reductions through utility-administered solar.
2. Utility involvement in community solar development in the Southeast.
3. The financial impacts of tax normalization policy on utility-led solar development.

Report:
Community Shared Solar in Real Life Community Shared Solar in Real Life
Author:  SEPA

Scan of existing community solar programs across the country to provide insight into existing program design, program performance, and the customer experience

Community Shared Solar in Real Life: The Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) completed this study of community solar programs across the country in order to provide insights into existing program designs, program performance, and the customer experience. SEPA interviewed program managers at nine investor-owned utilities that offered community solar programs, and surveyed over 400 community solar program subscribers. The study is a valuable compilation of lessons learned that informed Dominion Energy Virginia’s community solar program development.

Report:
Consolidated Studies Report Consolidated Studies Report

This document briefly summarizes the key takeaways and conclusions from the four technical studies described above.

Consolidated Studies Report: This document briefly summarizes the key takeaways and conclusions from the four technical studies described above.

Developing the Virginia Solar Pathways Strategy

Guided by the conclusions and findings of the comprehensive technical studies described above, the Dominion Energy Virginia team developed a Virginia Solar Pathways Project strategy report that details a statewide strategy for utility-administered solar programs. The project team also worked with the Core Advisory Team and community college partners to develop a solar workforce development strategy for the Commonwealth.

Resources

Report:
Virginia Solar Pathways Project Report Virginia Solar Pathways Project Report

A final project report describing Dominion Energy Virginia’s project to develop a utility-administered solar strategy for Virginia.

Report:
Virginia Solar Pathways Project: Solar Workforce Development ... Virginia Solar Pathways Project: Solar Workforce Development Strategy

Dominion Energy’s solar workforce development strategy.

Report:
Appendix A – Solar Workforce Development Strategy – Virginia ... Appendix A – Solar Workforce Development Strategy – Virginia Solar Job Posting Data

Appendix to the Virginia Solar Pathways Project Solar Workforce Development Strategy.

Report:
Appendix B – Solar Workforce Development Strategy – Eastern ... Appendix B – Solar Workforce Development Strategy – Eastern VA – Occupation Snapshot

Appendix to the Virginia Solar Pathways Project Solar Workforce Development Strategy.

Report:
Appendix C – Solar Workforce Development Strategy – Northern ... Appendix C – Solar Workforce Development Strategy – Northern VA – Occupation Snapshot

Appendix to the Virginia Solar Pathways Project Solar Workforce Development Strategy.

Report:
Appendix D – Solar Workforce Development Strategy – Central ... Appendix D – Solar Workforce Development Strategy – Central VA- Occupation Snapshot

Appendix to the Virginia Solar Pathways Project Solar Workforce Development Strategy.

 
Report:
Appendix E – VCCS Energy and Solar Credential Course List Appendix E – VCCS Energy and Solar Credential Course List

Appendix to the Virginia Solar Pathways Project Solar Workforce Development Strategy.

Key Takeaways and Next Steps

Solar is growing in Virginia faster than projected when this project began. By the time projects currently under development are completed, installed solar capacity will be nearly double Dominion Energy’s original project goals for the year 2020, demonstrating how quickly a nascent solar market can grow. Dominion Energy Virginia is now working to continue implementation of the Virginia Solar Pathways strategy, which includes establishing programs such as a community solar pilot program.

Based on experience and knowledge gained through the Virginia Solar Pathways Project, Dominion Energy Virginia and its Core Advisory Team offered in the final strategy report a set of key recommendations for replicating the Virginia Solar Pathways strategy for sustainable deployment in other states:

  • Engage in stakeholder collaboration
  • Work to avoid any unintended adverse consequences of state policy changes
  • Foster and maintain dialogue with large customers
  • Listen to customer preferences and match them to resource availability/attributes
  • Develop customized approaches to modeling and planning for solar integration
  • Prioritize grid modernization and customer empowerment