Solar PV represents the fastest-growing form of renewable energy in Vermont. Since 2011, Vermont has quadrupled its solar energy capacity to 120MW (installed or applied for) and in 2014, average commercial and residential system prices dropped by 16%, compared to 8% across the nation. Though the state currently has 3,600 net metering projects and the highest number of solar jobs per capita in the country, solar in Vermont still only accounts for about 2% of electricity generation.
Vermont’s governor, legislature, largest utility and transmission companies all support increasing solar deployment and transitioning to an advanced solar market. In 2011, the Vermont General Assembly adopted ambitious renewable energy goals, which were incorporated into the Vermont 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP). The CEP states that by 2050, 90% of the state’s total energy needs (defined as electricity, thermal, and transportation energy needs) will be met with renewable energy. Achieving these goals will require major contributions from distributed resources, including solar PV, and developing supporting infrastructure such as energy storage, electric vehicle charging stations, and distribution system upgrades.
The Vermont Solar Development project will coordinate and facilitate a structured stakeholder process to agree broadly on a solar deployment plan that can map to the CEP targets. The project seeks to detail levels of policy, regulation and market development necessary by 2020 and 2025 to reach these targets using the Long-Range Alternative Energy Planning (LEAP) computer modeling system and scenarios planning. It will also help stakeholders understand what expanded solar deployment will look like in Vermont.
The project team will use the modeling scenarios to determine the investment and project development needed in solar PV as Vermont progresses toward the 2050 goals. The Vermont Solar Deployment Plan, to be released in late 2016, will specify expected levels of solar deployment needed for Vermont to make substantial progress toward meeting the CEP targets, and define investment and project development needed in solar PV.
The VEIC team initiated the project with a kickoff meeting in March 2015, in which they brought together stakeholders and began organizing around seven strategic focus areas:
Stakeholders include a range of solar energy market actors, citizen and consumer advocates, legislators, utilities, regulators, the real estate industry, lending industry, the statewide energy efficiency utility and academic experts to address challenges and opportunities created by high levels of distributed solar generation. Each of the seven working groups met to examine and reach general agreement on key policy, regulatory, and technical market issues in each of the focus areas. The project team developed draft Strategic Focus Area Briefs for each focus area based on initial stakeholder conversations, covering barriers and opportunities for contributing to 2050 CEP goals. Stakeholders were invited to comment on the drafts, and following additional discussions and modeling during the summer and fall, VEIC expanded and revised this document. This information will be the foundation for the Vermont Solar Development Plan, to be created in 2016.
The project team is utilizing LEAP to create models of different levels of renewable energy generation in Vermont based on three scenarios. VEIC completed an initial scenario that accurately reflects solar deployment in Vermont and will determine the business-as-usual scenario. They have also developed an alpha scenario, specifying the type and level of Vermont’s solar market development within the five and ten-year horizons, consistent with the progress necessary to meet the longer-term CEP goal. The alpha scenario compares required solar market development and investments to the business-as-usual scenario.
Net metering policy is a fundamental factor in the scenarios being developed by VEIC and is a policy area that is currently being debated in Vermont. To explore this important variable, the VEIC project team developed a Net Metering Topic Brief, analyzing the current state of net metering and explore alternatives. This topic area brief, along with the other six, will be integrated into the scenario planning and will ultimately shape the Vermont Solar Pathway Plan.
VEIC also released the Barriers and Integration Brief, which identifies barriers to obtaining 20% of Vermont’s electricity from solar generation by 2025. Included in this brief is the Vermont Champ Curve, named after Lake Champlain’s famed sea-monster, Champ. This highlights the issues of low daytime net load (referring to the discrepancy between forecasted loads and actual generation amounts from distributed generation resources), and the ensuing high evening ramp rates (as generation amounts decrease and demand increases). In the Vermont Champ Curve, Champ’s belly dips below zero between 2025 and 2030 as the installed capacity in the state increases beyond 1GW.
The project team will continue to engage with each of the seven focus area groups. VEIC will help to facilitate a process that identifies how each focus area relates to others, such as how energy storage relates to net metering regulations to be included in the Vermont Solar Development Plan as well as developing case studies which will focus on barriers to integration in each focus area. These case studies will be included in a revised edition of the Barriers and Integration brief, to be shared with stakeholders. In 2016, VEIC will be working to incorporate this information into the modeling and will develop revised scenarios. These scenarios will be incorporated into the Vermont Solar Pathways Plan which will describe a path for the next 10 years of solar deployment and the achievement of CEP goals by 2025.
The peer review draft Report for Getting Vermont to 20% Solar was released in September 2016 and was available for review and comment by stakeholders. The final report with supporting volumes will be released in December 2016.