Outstanding Clean Energy Programs from States and Municipalities – What’s Working and Why

Author: Maria Blais Costello, Clean Energy Group | Project: Clean Energy States Alliance

Last week at a ceremony in Annapolis, Maryland, the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA), a nonprofit coalition of public agencies working together to advance clean energy, announced eight recipients of the 2014 State Leadership in Clean Energy awards. These awards recognize outstanding state and municipal programs that have accelerated the adoption of clean energy technologies and strengthened clean energy markets.

State and municipal clean energy agencies from across the country nominated programs for these awards. The entries were reviewed by an independent panel of distinguished judges: Steve Lindenberg (Senior Advisor for Renewable Power at the US Department of Energy), Andrea Luecke (President and Executive Director of the Solar Foundation), former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (Director of the Center for a New Energy Economy), Larry Sherwood (Vice President and COO of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council), and Robert Thresher (Research Fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory). Programs were scored based on public benefits and results, cost effectiveness, leadership and innovation, and replicability. The winning programs exemplify the ground-breaking work being done by states and municipalities in the arena of clean energy development and deployment.

The energy landscape is changing across America, revealing a new reality that is cleaner, more secure, and more sustainable. Solar panels and wind turbines are now common sights in all regions of the country, and state policies and programs have been primary drivers to get those projects deployed. State clean energy agencies are developing effective strategies to advance emerging clean energy technologies and new finance tools. Among other things, they are supporting innovative projects to get power from food waste; they are looking to distributed energy solutions like combined heat and power (CHP) systems, microgrids, and energy storage to add resiliency and security to the electric power system; they are creating financial products so that clean energy loans can be bundled into financial offerings attractive to investors; they are helping isolated communities power themselves almost exclusively by renewable energy sources; and they are developing the workforce needed by the growing clean energy industry.

Why are these programs working? What are key elements of their success?

The answer seems to be that the public agencies behind the programs are committed to identifying the many different barriers to clean energy deployment and then developing strategies for overcoming each of those barriers. They are ready and willing to deal with risks as they refine their programs and develop better models for getting clean energy technologies into the market.  The program managers and administrators understand that sharing lessons-learned, as well as examples of success and failure, serves both early adopters of these technologies and future users.

The State Leadership in Clean Energy awards, a biennial event, is an opportunity to take notice of these exemplary programs and results. The 2014 recipients are diverse geographically and in the size of their programs. But the two things they all have in common are their commitment to clean energy and their ability to get things done.

The 2014 awards were given to the following:

  • The Alaska Energy Authority and the Kodiak Electric Association for Kodiak, Alaska: A 99% Renewable Energy Community
  • The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for the Connecticut Microgrid Program
  • The Connecticut Green Bank for the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program
  • The Energy Trust of Oregon for the City of Gresham Wastewater Treatment Plant
  • The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Internship Program
  • The New Mexico Energy Conservation and Management Division for the NM Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit
  • The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) for its CHP Acceleration Program
  • The Sacramento Municipal Utility District for SMUD’s Community Renewable Energy Deployment Program

CESA has published a collection of case studies on the winning programs, and will feature these programs in this blog in the coming weeks. The programs are excellent examples of what’s working today as well as outstanding models for future success in clean energy deployment. We could not be more pleased to promote these important, transformational programs and projects.

For more information about the 2014 State Leadership in Clean Energy awards, visit http://www.cesa.org/projects/state-leadership-in-clean-energy/2014/.

Walmart + SolarCity = Solar + Storage

Author: Seth Mullendore, Clean Energy Group | Project: Resilient Power Project

blogphoto-WalmartWhat do you get when the largest retailer in the US decides to partner with the biggest rooftop solar developer in the country? A lot more solar energy and some solar + storage too.

Walmart recently announced that it plans to install 400 new solar projects at its facilities over the next four years. The projects will span the US, across 36 states. With solar power already deployed at 260 US facilities, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reports that Walmart is the country’s top commercial solar energy user, consuming around 105 megawatts of solar power, over twice the amount of solar as the next highest company. Over 200 of these projects have been installed through a partnership with SolarCity. The two companies have been working together since 2010.

But this partnership isn’t just about solar. Since early 2013, Walmart has been a pilot customer for SolarCity’s commercial energy storage system. Thirteen solar + storage projects have been installed so far, with ten more announced for 2015. While these projects are not intended to provide emergency backup power for the facilities, they are proving that solar + storage can be a positive investment.

SolarCity’s energy storage systems save money for companies like Walmart primarily by reducing peak demand charges. Demand charges are based on a facility’s highest level of electricity demand during a billing period, so if the demand charge is $10 per kilowatt and a facility has a one-time peak of 1,000 kilowatts, the total demand charge would be $10,000 for that period. Demand charges vary significantly depending on the utility and rate structure, but can account for 30-70% of a customer’s bill in certain regions. With energy storage, when demand at a facility rises above a certain threshold, the battery kicks in, so that the peak level of power demand the utility needs meet never goes above this predetermined level, resulting in lower and much more predictable demand charges.

After less than two years of testing, Walmart appears to be happy with the results. The ten new solar + storage projects will have larger batteries than previous installations, 200 kilowatts (400 kilowatt-hours). This expanded energy storage capacity will enable Walmart facilities to further reduce energy expenses and explore new savings techniques, such as using stored energy to offset high peak electricity rates.

So far, these solar + storage projects have been located exclusively in California, which has incentive programs that encourage energy storage deployment. It is unknown whether the additional planned projects will also be located within the state. Regardless, Walmart seems to have deemed solar + storage to be a winning technology combination for reducing demand charges at least for some locations. In other areas, such as the PJM service territory, solar + storage is proving to be able to profitably bid into frequency regulation markets, and states such as New York are exploring the value of energy storage in demand response programs. As more energy storage revenue streams become fully realized and other states begin to invest in the benefits of solar + storage, we are sure to see more of these projects pop up across the country.

State Leadership in Clean Energy: Innovation from Coast to Coast

Author: Clean Energy Group | Projects: Clean Energy Innovation, Clean Energy States Alliance

SLICE 2014 Report Cover with borderThe Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA), a national, nonprofit coalition of public agencies working together to advance clean energy, has announced the recipients of the 2014 State Leadership in Clean Energy Awards. The 2014 awards recognize eight outstanding state programs and projects that have accelerated the adoption of clean energy technologies and strengthened clean energy markets. Winners were chosen by an independent panel of five distinguished judges, and are featured in a new report.

The 2014 awards were given to:

  • The Alaska Energy Authority and the Kodiak Electric Association for Kodiak, Alaska: A 99% Renewable Energy Community
  • The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for the Connecticut Microgrid Program
  • The Connecticut Green Bank for the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program
  • The Energy Trust of Oregon for the City of Gresham Wastewater Treatment Plant
  • The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Internship Program
  • The New Mexico Energy Conservation and Management Division for the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit
  • The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) for its CHP Acceleration Program
  • The Sacramento Municipal Utility District for SMUD’s Community Renewable Energy Deployment Program

“These award winners illustrate the tremendous creativity and commitment being shown by state agencies across the country in implementing clean energy,” said CESA Executive Director Warren Leon. “With eight very different programs highlighting diverse technologies including solar PV, wind, energy storage, hydropower, anaerobic digesters, microgrids, and combined heat and power, the 2014 State Leadership in Clean Energy award winners demonstrate that clean energy can create jobs, clean up the environment, and benefit local economies. These are programs to emulate.”CESA member organizations from across the U.S. submitted nominations for the leadership awards. Entries were judged based on public benefits and results, cost effectiveness, leadership and innovation, and replicability. Winners were chosen by an independent panel of distinguished judges: Steve Lindenberg (Senior Advisor for Renewable Power at the US Department of Energy), Andrea Luecke (President and Executive Director of the Solar Foundation), former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (Director of the Center for a New Energy Economy), Larry Sherwood (Vice President and COO of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council), and Robert Thresher (Research Fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory).

A report on this year’s State Leadership in Clean Energy award winners, including case studies of each program, is available on CESA’s website at: http://www.cesa.org/projects/state-leadership-in-clean-energy/2014/.

This website also contains information and links to a webinar series on these exemplary programs. These webcasts are free and open to the public.

State Efforts at Grid Modernization

Author: Todd Olinsky-Paul, Clean Energy Group | Projects: Resilient Power Project, Clean Energy States Alliance, Energy Storage and Climate

blogphoto-State-Efforts-Grid-ModernizationOver the past year, we have seen a number of states initiate resilient power and microgrid initiatives.  But in addition, a few states have begun a process of revisioning their electric grids.  Notably, grid modernization initiatives are revving up in New York, Massachusetts, California and Hawaii.  No longer limited to so-called “smart meters” and other minor upgrades, these initiatives are focusing on big, system-wide changes in the way electric grids function.  There are a number of elements common to most grid revisioning efforts, including:

  • Integration of more distributed clean generation/enhanced resource diversity
  • Greater role for distribution utilities
  • Smartgrid and microgrid development
  • Peak shifting and reduction of grid overcapacity
  • Reduced outages, greater reliability and resiliency
  • Optimized demand/customer control of energy use
  • Improved asset management
  • Improved markets/grid services provision
  • Enhanced system-wide efficiency
  • Carbon reduction

The interesting thing about these goals is that each of them represents opportunities for solar + storage, a key resilient power technology.  If grid modernization efforts value more clean distributed generation, PV provides that, and storage can help to integrate it.  If peak shifting is a goal, solar + storage can achieve it.  If microgrids are needed, solar + storage is a key technology.  The same could be said for every bullet on the list above.

In many cases, these benefits will be provided by third-party or customer-owned solar + storage systems, rather than utility-owned systems.  This is especially true in restructured electricity markets, where utilities may not be able to own generation (and storage is frequently lumped in with generation, although it doesn’t actually generate anything).  In these markets, third party providers will play an important role.  And, there is some evidence that many smaller, distributed systems will be more valuable to the future grid, in aggregate, than a few larger, centralized ones.

But, how will solar + storage vendors, developers and owners monetize the benefits their systems provide to the future grid?  Recent FERC orders leveling the playing field for energy storage and distributed generators provide a partial answer, but in large portions of the country, these orders do not apply, or have not been fully implemented.  Even where they have been fully implemented, these FERC orders address only a few of the many important benefits of solar + storage systems.

How will solar + storage providers obtain a return in exchange for enabling reductions in generation overcapacity, or avoided transmission and distribution system upgrades?  What about resilient power benefits to communities?  Or reduced pollution and carbon emissions resulting from decreased need for fossil fuel peaker plants?  We know these benefits have value; what is not yet clear is how that value translates into markets that will support solar + storage deployment and technology development.  These questions need to be answered if visions of grid modernization, including enhanced resiliency, are to come to fruition.

I recently read an article titled “Grid Wars,” that likened the current, centralized generation grid to mainframe computers, and a decentralized, distributed generation future grid to smartphones and the cloud.  The author also noted that the current state regulatory framework was designed around a centralized grid, and is not sufficient to support the evolution of a distributed grid.  At this point, the promise of technology has far outstripped the rules and markets that determine how electricity and grid services are delivered, and who gets paid for them.

The nascent state efforts at grid modernization are a good start, and should be applauded.  But much more needs to be done.