Up Around The Bend*

By Jane Weissman
Contributors – Jason Keyes, Sky Stanfield, Joe Wiedman, Joe Sarubbi, Laure-Jeanne Davignon

I often wonder if the many projections made for a new year are accurate when looked at 12 months later.  As one year ends, I try to remember to check to see how good the predictions were, but I always forget to go back and compare projections to reality.

Of course forecasting the future is never an exact science, but the IREC Team took time for a reasoned preview at what’s on our 2014 plate.  We have our 2013 work as a pretty good base for our predictions for the year ahead. So here goes.

Jason Keyes sees IREC’s work related to net metering focusing on valuing distributed solar generation (DSG), which appears to be a good litmus test for strengthening net metering programs. Sixteen state utility commissions are investigating the costs and benefits of DSG, and IREC’s expertise and resources will help shape those investigations by identifying the benefits to consider and how to calculate those benefits.

IREC’s 2013 Regulator’s Guidebook on solar valuation provides a foundational text for our work, and our experience in California, Arizona and Colorado gives us the practical know how to participate meaningfully in other states.

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Sky Stanfield looks at the positive decision from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), adopting important updates to the Small Generator Interconnection Procedures (SGIP). And though it was a significant success for IREC in 2013, it requires additional work in order to ensure the greatest impact. In 2014, IREC will be working to ensure that the FERC decision results in wide-ranging improvements to the interconnection process across the United States.  IREC will focus on encouraging more states to consider adopting changes similar to those set out in SGIP, as we saw Ohio do just a week after FERC issued its decision.

Both Sky and Jason talk about storage technologies in the coming year.  Sky tells us that  utilities and regulators across the country are beginning to evaluate what technologies may be available to help ease integration of high levels of distributed renewables.   In particular, California has recently issued an order requiring the utilities to procure 1,325 MWs of storage by 2020. In addition, the state recently opened a new docket to consider the programs, tariffs and policies necessary to ensure continued adoption of electric vehicles.  IREC believes work in both of these areas has significant potential to help ease integration of increased amounts of distributed generation solar and intends to lend its policy and technical expertise to help the state facilitate programs that will allow these benefits to be realized early on.

Joe Wiedman thinks the biggest thing when looking ahead will be the continued expansion of shared renewables. Coming online in 2014 will be programs in Minnesota (Xcel’s service territory utilizing a value of solar framework), the District of Columbia (a restructured state with the program nestled within their general RPS), and California (three largest IOUs in the state with a total program capacity of 600 MW). Each of these programs represents solid movement in developing programs that allow consumers to access the type of energy they want, while addressing utility concerns over ratepayer impacts.  IREC will continue working with numerous stakeholders across the country to produce model program rules, case studies and other documentation to support greater understanding of shared renewables.

Joe Sarubbi sees new pieces of the workforce puzzle fitting nicely in the year ahead.  The investment of time and resources in solar training networks has paid off.  With this in place, 2014 will be the time to turn to developing the new GEARED power system engineering initiative (Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment).  Joe is confident that the GEARED consortia will develop a good bandwidth of courses and programs for future power systems engineers to support long-term education. But we’ve learned that the utility industry, while needing about 9,000 power systems engineers, also needs 24,000 line workers, who require a higher level of training than they’ve received in the past; somewhere between an associate’s and bachelor’s degree. They will need to better understand the new technology design. They will be installing and maintaining the new equipment, and without their understanding of the technology, could create a market barrier to the advancement of distributed generation. So part of Joe’s focus will be getting the universities to also look at developing courses to help the line workers, substation mechanics and relay technicians in the utility industry.

The Regional Training Providers (RTP) continue to be impressive as they maintain their instructor networks and hold code official workshops.  By the end of 2014, we could have thousands of code officials with a greater understanding of solar installations through the RTPs’ workshops, and with the online training for code officials offered by IREC in partnership with the International Association of Electrical Inspectors.

And on the topic of permitting and inspection, you might recall that last year IREC developed the first model inspection checklist for rooftop solar systems. The checklist assists  jurisdictions in their efforts to efficiently process solar PV applications, while also ensuring a high level of safety and system reliability. Sky sees that in the coming year, IREC will further build out this checklist by creating models that incorporate state-specific code provisions and  by working with state agencies to ensure that the resource is readily available for local adoption. In addition, IREC will continue to focus on methods for streamlining the coordination between the utility interconnection and the local inspection processes.

The final feature in our 2014 mosaic is IREC’s standards and credentialing work.  Laure-Jeanne Davignon maps out the  plan for IREC to go through the American National Standards process for our certificate standard to be designated as an American Standard.  Outreach efforts are already deep into the 2014 calendar for growing our certificant pool of accredited training providers and instructors.

We’ll be working with the many national initiatives underway to define and promote competency-based credentials and their market value.  And, we will collaborate with our founding friends to take the collective message of the Clean Energy Credentialing Coalition out to consumers.  The commitment to quality assurances is no longer  just words with little action.  The tide has turned as industry, decision-makers and consumers demand better proof of accountability and value.

As 2014 gets underway, we have some major issues on our drawing board, covering the changing nature of energy generation, the modernization of the electric grid, the increasing demand for credible credentials, and expanding the training and education platform for the workforce.  All exciting work ahead.

Happy New Year!  Talk with you soon.

*with thanks to CCR, 1970

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