Archive for month: September, 2016

Resilient Solar+Storage at Nature Center Improves Community and Economic Security

Author: Sarah Galbraith, Clean Energy Group | Project: Resilient Power Project

Hartley Nature Center. Photo courtesy of Ecolibrium3.Powerful summer storms hit Duluth, Minnesota in July, causing damage to homes and businesses and knocking out power for several days. The Hartley Nature Center (HNC), a nonprofit nature-based education facility, was without power for six days. Ironically, it was on that sixth day, just two hours after the power was finally restored, that a lithium-ion battery was delivered for HNC’s new solar+storage resilient power system.

“I thought we were going to have to wheel the battery into the mechanical room with headlamps!” said Bret Pence, a program specialist with Ecolibrium3, a project partner that assisted HNC with coordinating the installation and securing funding. Before the July storms, HNC had already planned to retrofit an existing solar power array to include energy storage. The region has suffered from severe storms in the past, like those that caused the flood of 2012, and the City of Duluth was interested in exploring storage to keep the solar system and emergency loads up and running at the center during an outage, as well as using the system to reduce energy expenses.

Now, if the power from the grid goes down, the electricity from the solar array can continue powering the building and charge the battery. When the solar panels are not generating power, the batteries can provide needed electricity to power critical building loads like lighting, computers, and charging stations until utility services are restored. The backup power can support business functions during shorter outages, or it can support critical power needs during an extended outage.

Furthering the Center’s commitment to sustainability and community, the solar+storage system will enable HNC to serve as a community shelter during emergency outages, with the capability to act as a base of operations for the city’s emergency response efforts. A critical load sub-panel was added as part of this project, with the primary goal of providing a communications charging station and four-season shelter functionality.

The project was initially funded through a University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnership grant and received additional support from the Minnesota Power Foundation and in-kind donations of labor and planning from the City of Duluth. Clean Energy Group’s Resilient Power Project provided a grant to support project technical feasibility assessments and fund related educational classes on solar+storage technology. Additional contributions were made by the Izzak Walton League, Werner Electric, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The energy storage system was installed to compliment an existing solar array, one of the first in northern Minnesota. Installed in 2003, the solar system is composed of an 11-kilowatt fixed array on the roof and a 2-kilowatt ground-mounted dual-axis tracker. By early 2016, the original inverters began to fail, HNC worked with the University of Minnesota Duluth and Ecolibrium3 to investigate installing an energy storage system along with new inverters. The energy system was officially commissioned in August.

HNC’s enthusiasm for the solar+storage project was elevated when the July outage forced them to cancel a week of youth camps, which is how they make a large part of their revenue for the year.  This changed how HNC viewed the value of the battery, from a cutting edge but expensive community project to a great capital improvement investment that provides an extra degree of economic security.

“The big thing is that the perception of the value of resilience has changed, at Hartley and in Duluth, since the [July] storm,” said Pence. “It is the first extended community wide power outage in 10-15 years, and as such everyone is thinking about backup differently.”

Solar+storage proved to be a win-win solution to meet HNC’s goals of providing backup power for a community emergency shelter, while also reducing electricity costs and providing public education. Along with improved resiliency and ongoing public education, the City of Duluth intends to use this project as a demonstration model of solar+storage technologies, which could lead to more resilient solar+storage development throughout the city.

For more examples of resilient power projects, visit the “Featured Installations” section of our website.

Clean Energy Group’s Resilient Power Project will be hosting a webinar about the solar+storage project at the Hartley Nature Center on Wednesday, October 19. Guest speakers from Ecolibrium3 and the University of Minnesota Duluth will present. For more information on this free webinar and to register, click here.

Massachusetts Goes All-In on Energy Storage

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

Photo Credit: demerzel21/

The next wave of clean energy policy making will be more focused on energy storage, as evidenced by the release this week of the long-awaited Massachusetts energy storage report, titled “State of Charge.”  The study was co-funded by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), and it represents a major new policy direction for the state on how to capture the economic and environmental benefits of emerging energy storage technologies.

In impressive fashion, the 200-page report, supported by detailed economic analysis, lays out how Massachusetts can use a smart combination of procurement, financial incentives, market economics, and economic development strategies to expand storage deployment and help grow the storage industry. It is a road map showing how energy storage can save money, increase penetration of renewable power and address climate change in Massachusetts — and, by extension, in other states.

The report proposes that the state invest millions in storage deployment incentives and market development, with the goal of incentivizing 600 MW of new advanced storage capacity by 2025, resulting in an anticipated $800 million in system benefits to ratepayers. These policy actions would be a

big step in moving the state toward the report’s modeled optimal deployment level of 1.766 GW of storage, and may be augmented by the new Massachusetts energy diversity law that empowers DOER to set an energy storage procurement mandate for the state’s utilities.

DOER is supposed to decide by the end of this year whether to establish an energy storage procurement mandate, and if so, for how much additional storage. State utilities would then have until 2020 to meet the mandated procurement target. If established, this would make Massachusetts the third state to create a storage mandate, and the first in the Northeast.

While the study does not recommend an energy storage mandate, it does provide a sophisticated cost/benefit analysis model showing the economic benefits of procuring 1.766 GW of energy storage. According to the study that procurement would cost between $970 million and $1.35 billion, but would yield $2.3 billion in system benefits to ratepayers, plus $1.1 billion in market revenue to the resource owners; and $250 million in regional system benefits to the other New England states due to lower wholesale market prices across ISO New England (ISO-NE). Climate benefits include a carbon emissions reduction of more than 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over 10 years — equivalent to taking 223,000 cars off the road.

The study begins by laying out the business case for storage. The state’s electric system is inefficient, it says, with storage capacity accounting for less than 1 percent of the state’s daily electricity consumption. The grid must be balanced by the nearly-instantaneous ramping up and down of fossil fuel generators, requiring the building and maintenance of numerous gas “peaker” plants that only run 2 percent to 7 percent of the time. That means these plants sit idle more than 90 percent of the time.

The report also points to inefficiencies in the grid infrastructure and resulting high costs to ratepayers due to “highly variable” electricity prices. The report claims that from 2013-2015, the top 1 percent most expensive hours for electricity consumption accounted for more than 8 percent ($680 million) of Massachusetts ratepayers’ annual electricity costs, and that the top 10 percent of hours during those years, on average, “accounted for 40 percent of annual electricity spend, over $3 billion.”

The report suggests that energy storage is “the only technology that can use energy generated during low cost off peak periods to serve load during expensive peak periods, thereby improving overall utilization and economics of the electric grid.”

So, if storage is so beneficial, why isn’t there more of it already? The Massachusetts study identifies the single biggest barrier to energy storage deployment:

“While the system benefits alone justify an investment in storage from a ratepayer perspective, the revenue mechanisms that would encourage investment from a private storage developer are insufficient. Without a means to be compensated for the value the storage resource provides to the system, private investors will simply not invest in building storage projects in Massachusetts…. The biggest challenge to achieving more storage deployment in Massachusetts is that there is a lack of clear market mechanisms to transfer some portion of the system benefits… to the storage project developer.”

This is the main problem addressed by the study’s policy and program recommendations, which fall into two broad categories: (1) recommendations to expand deployment of advanced energy storage in the state, and (2) recommendations to grow the energy storage industry.

The deployment-oriented recommendations include grant and rebate programs, such as doubling funding for demonstration projects from the previously-announced $10 million to $20 million; offering $20 million in rebates for customer-sited storage out of state ACP funds; dedicating $150,000 to support commercial/industrial feasibility studies; awarding the remaining $14.2 million in DOER’s Community Clean Energy Resiliency Initiative budget; and allocating $4.5 million in demonstration project grants for utilities and market actors to demonstrate peak demand management.

The study also recommends adding storage as an eligible technology within the existing Green Communities Grant, Alternative Portfolio Standard, and Next Generation Solar Incentive Programs, and allowing storage to be included in all future long-term clean energy procurements.

There are also recommendations that the state clarify the regulatory treatment of utility storage, including the treatment of storage in grid modernization plans; adopt storage safety and performance standards; clarify interconnection requirements; facilitate sharing of electricity customer load data and use cases by facility type; and create an advanced storage working group at ISO-NE to remove regulatory and market barriers that keep storage from participating in regional wholesale energy markets.

Recommendations to grow the energy storage industry in Massachusetts include creating an energy storage cluster and expanding the MassCEC investment programs to support energy storage companies; expanding MassCEC’s workforce training programs; and engaging the state’s universities to support energy storage startups in Massachusetts and invest in research and development and testing facilities to anchor an energy storage cluster.

The bottom line is that Massachusetts — assuming programs and policy making follow this study’s recommendations — is about to throw nearly every tool in its considerable policy toolbox at the problem of how to make energy storage go, and go big, in the Commonwealth.

The study is a landmark product, not just for Massachusetts, but for all states; and it serves as an example of what can and should be done to move our electricity grids out of the 19th century and begin leveraging real and significant support for technologies that will save money, improve reliability and resiliency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and support the transition to renewables and distributed generation.

But no report is perfect; so what’s missing from this one? Well, for one thing, there is no mention of how to make the benefits of energy storage accessible to low- and moderate-income communities, which need energy cost savings and resiliency the most; nor is there any discussion of storage in multifamily affordable housing, where it can provide both resilient power and economic benefits.

Given the Baker-Polito Administration’s heralded $15 million Affordable Access to Clean and Efficient Energy Initiative — a cross-cutting initiative designed to focus the state’s multiple energy and housing agencies on expanding clean energy opportunities for low- and moderate-income residents — this omission may be remedied during implementation.

And there is still the open question of whether the state will implement measures to reach the modeled, economically optimal, storage deployment level of 1.766 GW. Between the report’s policy recommendations and new enabling legislation, the state may have the new tools to get there. How far it will actually go, still remains to be seen.

On the whole, though, the report is an impressive piece of work — the kind of thorough analysis other states should look to when teeing up energy storage policy development. And if even half the report’s recommendations are quickly implemented, it will position Massachusetts as a clear leader in the development of meaningful energy storage policy, programs, and deployment. It’s now up to other states to follow Massachusetts’ example.

Clean Energy Group and the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) are working to support MA DOER and MassCEC in their energy storage and resilient power initiatives, by providing technical assistance directly to municipal awardees of DOER’s Community Clean Energy Resilience Initiative, and by providing policy and program development support to both agencies, through the Energy Storage Technology Advancement Partnership (ESTAP) and Resilient Power Project. ESTAP is supported by US DOE-OE through a contract with Sandia National Laboratories, while Clean Energy Group’s Resilient Power Project receives funding from the Barr Foundation in support of this work.

This article was also published in Renewable Energy World

How Solar Stakeholders in California are Making Plans for the Expansion of Clean Energy in Multifamily Affordable Housing

Author: Clean Energy Group | Project: Resilient Power Project

cecnhspCalifornia’s Multifamily Solar Roofs Program, which was authorized by the passage AB 693, is a response to the profound gap in the level of solar installations serving low-income renters and disadvantaged communities. When implemented in 2017, it will be the first program in the country specifically designed to provide low-income renters with increased access to the electricity generated from on-site solar energy systems and ensure direct economic benefits from solar credits allocated to each low-income household. The program will have the capacity to bring integrated solar energy benefits to more than 150,000 low-income households over the next ten years.

In response to a request for AB 693 implementation proposals, a diverse group of the state’s leading low-income, environmental, and affordable housing groups came together to submit a plan to the California Public Utilities Commission. The Nonprofit Solar Stakeholders Coalition (California Housing PartnershipCalifornia Environmental Justice AllianceBrightline Defense ProjectNatural Resources Defense Council, and National Housing Law Project) prepared a joint proposal calling for the adoption of an integrated energy strategy combining energy efficiency, solar PV, and energy storage devices to reduce energy use and costs. Further, the joint proposal requests special efforts to target solar energy systems installations in disadvantaged communities and to provide job opportunities in low-income and disadvantaged communities. The plan also recommends that an independent, statewide administrator run the program to improve upon the performance of past solar energy programs.

This comprehensive plan is the first of its kind in the nation. Beyond California, this plan – and its coalition strategy – could serve as a model for how states and communities can take action to build a more sustainable energy future in which low-income tenants can share in the benefits of the new clean energy economy.

More details about the Coalition’s plan can be found in a recent article in Renewable Energy World, prepared by Wayne Waite (formerly with California Housing Partnership Corporation), Lew Milford and Seth Mullendore of Clean Energy Group. Read it here.

Clean Energy Group will be hosting a two-part webinar series on September 22 and 29 featuring guest speakers from the Nonprofit Solar Stakeholders Coalition to discuss the details on this groundbreaking proposal. For more information on these free webinars and to register, click here.


This article was also posted in Renewable Energy World.

New Strides in the Residential PACE Space

Author: Nate Hausman, Clean Energy Group | Project: Clean Energy States Alliance

solar panel on the roof of apartment building

While the costs of solar photovoltaics (PV) have decreased considerably over the last decade,[1] many customers still need long-term, low-cost financing to make going solar affordable. Financing mechanisms like leases, loans, and power purchase agreements spread out the initial cost of residential solar installations over a term of years.

Residential Property Assessed Clean Energy (R-PACE) offers another solution for homeowners to pay for a solar investment over time. While the structure, capital source, and administration of programs vary, residential PACE enables a local government to fund energy improvements, such as solar, on a qualifying taxpayer’s home and to recoup the expense, with interest, through a tax assessment paid over time by the homeowner. The tax assessment, which remains in place for the life of the obligation, is levied through the homeowner’s property tax bill. Residential PACE payment obligations can transfer to subsequent property owners along with the benefits of the energy improvement. Because the obligation is secured by the underlying property, it can support repayment terms of twenty years or longer at attractive interest rates.


To enable residential PACE, state legislation must authorize the program. Residential PACE programs are in place in a handful of states, most notably California,[2] but program development has experienced regulatory challenges over the last several years. Government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which purchase, guarantee, and securitize home mortgages from banks and small lenders, have expressed concern that residential PACE poses a threat to the secondary mortgage market because PACE assessments may create senior liens superior to existing mortgages.[3] In 2010, the Federal Housing and Finance Agency (FHFA), the agency which serves as conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to cease purchasing the mortgages of PACE-encumbered properties.[4]

In July 2016, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), an entity separate and distinct from the FHFA, released new guidance clarifying the conditions under which homes with PACE assessments can be purchased or refinanced with mortgage products provided by the FHA. Although FHA-insured loans make up a relatively small proportion of the lending market for housing in the U.S., the new guidance lends greater legitimacy to residential PACE by explicitly authorizing FHA-insured mortgages on qualifying properties with PACE assessments.[5]

While the FHFA has not changed its position in light of the FHA’s PACE guidance, the U.S. Department of Energy has announced that it will offer technical assistance “to support the design and implementation of effective PACE programs” and released an updated draft of its Best Practice Guidelines for Residential PACE Financing Programs. Interested policymakers and officials should stay tuned for additional residential PACE market developments.


[1] Galen Barbose and Naïm Darghouth, “Tracking the Sun IX,” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, August 2016,

[2] A list of residential PACE programs compiled by PACENation is available at

[3]  Jeremy Brown, “PACE in Texas: The Future of Contractual Assessment Financing for Conservation Improvements,” Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration, and Environmental Law, April 2013,

[4]  Corinne Russell and Stefanie Johnson, “FHFA Statement on Certain Energy Retrofit Loan Programs,” Federal Housing Finance Agency, July 6, 2010,

[5] John J. Marciano III, Gregory W. Lavigne Jr. & Daniel Phillip Sinaiko, “Can New Federal Guidance Unlock the Residential PACE Market? We’re Almost There!,” Tax Equity Telegraph, July 2016,


This article was originally published on NREL’s Solar Technical Assistance Team (STAT) Blog. Read the original post here.

This article was also posted on Renewable Energy World.

Solar Consumer Protection Reflections and Resource Selections

Author: Nate Hausman, Clean Energy Group | Project: Clean Energy States Alliance

The U.S. distributed solar market has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade. Over seventy- times the residential solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity was installed in the U.S. in 2015 (2,099 MW) as was installed in 2005 (27 MW). While the significant opportunities for gainful enterprise in the residential PV economy signal solar market health, they have also brought consumer-focused issues to the fore. Policymakers, regulators, advocacy groups, and the solar industry are giving increasing attention to ensuring that consumers receive accurate information and ultimately have good experiences with solar energy installation. A number of new resources are intended to help further residential solar understanding.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has put forth a Solar Consumer Protection Resource webpage with various resources focused on improving consumer transparency, reducing transaction costs, and increasing the potential for asset securitization for solar customers. SEIA’s Solar Consumer Protection Resource webpage includes:

In addition to SEIA’s consumer protection webpage, Consumer Reports has published several articles on residential solar PV:

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) has developed and published several clean energy protection tools designed to promote safeguards and protect the solar market. IREC’s consumer protection resources include:

In July 2016, the Federal Trade Commission conducted a full-day workshop on competition and consumer protection issues in solar energy. Video and PowerPoint slides from the workshop, titled “Something New Under the Sun,” are posted here.

Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) has produced a Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Financing: Leases, Loans and PPAs  to help consumers make sounds solar decisions and select the best financing option for their needs. In addition, CESA recently launched the Sustainable Solar Education Project, which provides information and educational resources to state and municipal officials on strategies to ensure that distributed solar electricity remains consumer friendly and benefits low- and moderate-income households. Through the project, CESA is publishing a free monthly e-newsletter with news and information related to solar consumer friendliness and equitability.

Ensuring that distributed solar PV remains consumer friendly is important to sustain the solar market’s upward trend. Increasingly, as highlighted in this blog, resources related to this topic are being published to better educate solar consumers.


This article was originally published on NREL’s Solar Technical Assistance Team (STAT) Blog. Read the original post here.

This article was also posted in Renewable Energy World.