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Solar STAT Blog

The Solar STAT blog discusses the most recent NREL and DOE SunShot Initiative technical assistance offered to states and communities to support the development of private investment in solar markets. We post weekly on events, solar-related actions, and technical assistance outcomes for the purpose of informing the market in a credible and timely fashion.


Solar Technical Assistance Team Profile: Sarah Booth

July 17, 2014

Photo of a female professional in front of a grey background.

Sarah Booth, Energy Analyst & India Analysis Project Lead

What are your primary research interests?

I'm focusing on two main areas right now: 1) increasing access to policy data to help state and local policymakers make informed decisions that best meet the needs of their constituents and 2) renewable energy policy and deployment in India.

What were you working on this morning?

I was thinking through potential expansions to the new State and Local Energy Data (SLED) website that we developed for the DOE Integrated Deployment Program. By just entering your zip code, the tool provides information on electricity costs, fuel used for generation, renewable resource potential, transportation fuel costs, and applicable policies and incentives.

What is the most interesting issue in solar for you right now?

I'm closely following the conversation around how to fairly quantify the value of distributed solar generation and to incorporate the costs of externalities into all types of generation.

What opportunities do you see for solar?

There really are many opportunities for solar, and I'm particularly interested in its application for providing electricity in off-grid communities to increase opportunities for economic development.

What challenges do you see for solar?

Solar grid integration will be a challenge as utilities figure out what technical issues exist as penetration levels increase. We can look to utilities that are already experiencing higher levels of solar penetration, like Hawaii's utilities, to learn from their experiences.

What is your favorite thing about providing technical assistance?

I really enjoy providing technical assistance because it gives me the opportunity to work directly with the state and local policymakers whose actions are leading to an increase in clean energy deployment.

What are you reading outside of work? What are your non-work interests?

I'm currently reading The Circle by Dave Eggers. Outside of work, I really enjoy being outdoors, whether it's working in my vegetable garden, camping, or swimming in a lake.

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Hot Solar TA in the Summertime!

July 9, 2014

School is out but that doesn't mean that we're off here at STAT—summer is just heating up! As part of the second round of in-depth solar technical assistance offered this year, the NREL STAT team is hard at work on several requests targeting solar policy and programmatic improvements at the state and local levels.

Several of the requests in progress are focused on the potential for cross subsidization within net metering policies. In fact, three states submitted applications related to this topic, so it's definitely a hot issue right now. STAT is also working with our Policy Activity Assistance Team to summarize the approaches that other states have already taken to address these issues. We'll make sure to post any results here as the summer progresses!

Here are a few of the other projects that we are working on this summer:

  • Montgomery County, Maryland

    Montgomery County is leading by example by installing 4–6 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) capacity on its facilities through public/private partnerships. The County Council recently passed legislation requiring a renewable energy plan for all county facilities and operations, so NREL is assisting with the plan's development.

  • Washington State

    Washington is looking to determine the impact of snow and wind loads on PV systems to better understand whether certain systems could be fast-tracked through the state's permitting process. NREL is providing building expertise to Washington's Permitting Work Group. We are also connecting the state with other policymakers that are working on this topic for greater peer-to-peer networking opportunities.

  • Oregon

    The Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) requested assistance in understanding the state-specific balance of system costs—essentially, everything but the PV hardware. NREL is helping ODOE coordinate with the Energy Trust of Oregon to conduct a survey that can provide stakeholders with better information on the state-specific "soft costs" of solar. Once this information is gathered, we will analyze the survey data to help form a roadmap for reducing soft costs.

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Solar Technical Assistance Team Profile: Liz Doris

July 1, 2014

Photo styled as a professional headshot in front of a grey backdrop.

Elizabeth Doris, IE Senior Project Leader, Policy and Technical Assistance.

What are your primary research interests?

I am most interested in understanding how policy, particularly state and local policy, can support jurisdictional economic and environmental goals by supporting technology adoption. I love to see how policies interact and behave in the market. Sometimes I read articles about these policies and think, "Why is that policy having THAT impact?" and that's what I really want to know.

What were you working on this morning?

This morning I was looking at the impact of different kinds of residential demand response programs in municipal utilities. These programs haven't been widely used for a variety of reasons, but seem to be picking up speed as technology allows for improved two-way interaction with consumers.

What is the most interesting issue in solar for you right now?

The most interesting thing to me is that the distributed generation market seems to be at a point where flexibility in the policies is critical. As recently as a few years ago, the strategy was to set up a series of incentives to encourage market adoption. Now, as there are more price, adoption, and workforce fluctuations in the market, the most successful policies seem to be the ones that are flexible enough to move with the changing times. Those are sometimes a bit harder to set up, implement, AND make sure they are working in the way they are intended. I love that the policy landscape is changing with the market—it's really exciting.

Photo of a female laughing while standing in front of a projector and white board.

Liz leads workshop participants in a learning game of Jeopardy at the Tribal Community- and Facility-Scale Renewable Energy Project Development and Finance Workshop Sept. 18–20, 2013. Photo by John De La Rosa/NREL

What is your favorite thing about providing technical assistance?

I really enjoy working with the decision makers to reach their goals. Our requestors are smart, engaged people with real challenges to solve. Helping them understand how solar can (or can't) help them reach those goals in a timely manner and in a way that they can digest quickly so they can move on with their busy lives is really rewarding. Also, I like to look back and see how requests from years ago are really starting to have a broad impact. It takes patience, but I love that aspect.

What are you reading outside of work? What are your non-work interests?

I am obsessed with education policy right now, particularly how policies put in place in that field seem to frequently have unintended consequences that have big impacts on shaping how American kids develop and get educated. As a result, I'm reading a lot of court cases, commentary, and legislative bills in different states so that I can learn about the different strategies for providing high quality public education to America's youth. We need more technical assistance providers, and I'm happiest if we start 'em young.

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Solar Market Expertise Is Just an Application Away

June 26, 2014

Do you have questions about renewable energy or energy efficiency projects in your jurisdiction? Are you looking for agenda-free information that is relevant to your area? Let us help!

For 25 years, NREL has provided technical assistance, or TA, to government agencies and state, local, and tribal jurisdictions across the United States and around the world. Our goal is to provide credible information related to the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs or policies that are aimed at solar market development.

NREL's Solar Technical Assistance Team (STAT) offers solar specific technical assistance on topics ranging from net metering to policy development. Past technical assistance projects have included topics such as:

  • Technology assessments
  • Tool development
  • Financing strategies
  • Third party contract reviews
  • Strategic planning
  • Policy development.

Click here to see a map of where we have completed TA requests as well what types of TA have been requested.

Graphic illustration of three interconnected gears, including an orange one titled "Education" and a box that says, "Learn on your own,"; a blue gear titled "Quick Response" and a box that says, "1–2 weeks level of effort,"; and a larger green gear titled "In Depth" with a box that says, "2–10 weeks level of effort."

STAT offers three different flavors of technical assistance: education, which includes webinars and fact sheets on various topics; quick response, which is one-on-one technical assistance that requires fast turnaround; and in-depth one-on-one technical assistance for longer term requests. Illustration by Erin Nobler, NREL

There are two types of solar technical assistance available through our program: In-Depth and Quick Response. In-Depth technical assistance is comprehensive assistance that is offered on a biannual basis. We will be offering the next round of In-Depth TA in fiscal year 2015, which begins in October 2014. Quick Response is offered continuously and provides a fast-turnaround response to a time-sensitive question or expert testimony on best practices. To request assistance through the STAT Quick Response program, fill out the 9 questions on this request form and email the information to stat@nrel.gov.

Don't have a specific question but just looking for more information on solar deployment? We can help with that too! Check out our education page featuring the STAT webinar series. Themes we explore include Solar 101, Solar Hot Topics, and—this year's series—Do-It-Yourself Solar Market Analysis. The 2014 summer webinars are underway, including:

Be sure to subscribe to our e-newsletter for information and updates related to STAT efforts. If our experts can help your community develop its solar market, we hope you'll fill out an application and be in touch.

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A Meeting of the Solar Minds: Takeaways from the SunShot Summit

Elizabeth Doris, Senior Project Leader
June 11, 2014

Last month, a few members of NREL's Solar Technical Assistance Team—including me—had the opportunity to attend the U.S Department of Energy's 2014 SunShot Grand Challenge Summit in Anaheim, California. It was a great meeting of the minds, bringing together a range of people who are working on the solar technology frontier as well as deployment strategies. The conference not only gathered all of SunShot's project partners for progress reviews, but it also encouraged those of us who are working toward cost-competitive solar to exchange ideas on how to better inform technology and market decisions. Half of the exhibit hall was filled with rows of posters summarizing each project funded by the SunShot Program. Attendees were able to browse the information and learn about SunShot—funded projects from representatives of each team, which provided an excellent opportunity for awardees to meet each other, exchange ideas, and identify synergies between projects.

Three men standing at a conference exhibit table talking with each other.

NREL's presence at the SunShot Summit included a booth focused on the soft costs of solar, where Nate Blair and Aron Dobos demonstrated models and tools to passersby. Photo by Liz Doris/NREL

I attended many sessions and was both exhausted and exhilarated by the event! My favorite session was hosted by DOE Fellow Adam Cohen on the last day of the summit. Cohen is interested in better evaluating program impacts by using methodologies, like randomized control testing (RCT) from the medical field, to understand what is actually having an effect in the market. That morning, we heard from several other well-informed speakers. Catherine Wolfram, a professor at UC-Berkeley, spoke about the E2e Project that she co-directs. E2e is about bringing "big energy" (E) to "small energy" (e) using randomized control trials. Easan Drury spoke on NREL's SunShot efforts to better understand human decision-making processes.

The main event of Thursday's workshop was when we split into three groups to brainstorm programs and ways to design and evaluate them. Each group was given one of the following challenges:

  1. Supporting solar deployment in low-income applications
  2. Supporting utility ownership of systems
  3. Exploring the idea of having standard system sizes and how that might affect the market for deployment.

I was on the first team discussing programmatic options for addressing the low-income market. We determined that the existing mechanisms, such as group purchasing of systems or participation in shared solar programs, theoretically work in this market. However, it's the outreach and marketing efforts that need to be the focus of programs. We discussed borrowing methods used in low-income energy efficiency programs, such as energy champions and ambassadors and using randomized controlled testing to see if those people would have a better uptake percentage than sending in solar developers or non-profit representatives. We think it would. It's an interesting question to think about: would you rather get information on solar from your trusted community leader or from a solar expert? Who would you buy from? The workshop's next step is to continue working toward rigorously evaluated programs, but I also hope to see some of the program ideas take hold!

Overall, it was a great week at the SunShot Summit!

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The Origins of NREL's Solar STAT Blog (Hint: It's a Dead Language)

May 16, 2014

Salve solaris industria! If you can roughly translate this phrase as, "Hello solar industry," then you pass our basic Latin skills test and can move to the next paragraph. Many of you may be interested to learn that NREL's Solar Technical Assistance Team (STAT) derives its blog name, not just from our acronym, but also from the Latin statim, which means "immediately."

A thriving solar market at the state and local level doesn't happen overnight. Still, we know that with the right policies and a sufficient amount of time, solar adoption can be as abundant as Homer's catalogue of Greek ships. We even developed a graph for that.

Series of three graphs plotting Installed Solar Capacity (x-axis) against Average Age of the State's Suite of Policies (y-axis) for 2008, 2010, and 2012, showing how installed capacity increases as solar policies are in place for longer amounts of time.

NREL analysts plotted the installed solar capacity for all 48 contiguous states against policy age to visualize the impact that policies, including net metering (NM), interconnection (IC), third-party ownership (TPO), and solar renewable portfolio standards (RPS), have on U.S. solar markets. Image from Darlene Steward and Elizabeth Doris, NREL

The Solar STAT blog aims to provide information to state and local governments on current solar policy and program activities. We will use this forum to discuss which topics are influencing industry growth, what peer stakeholders are asking about, and where programs are being developed. We are also planning some other behind-the-scenes looks at what the STAT program does on a day-to-day basis, including features about our team members and partners.

If you, like Horace, subscribe to the belief that combining utile dulci—the useful and pleasant—is an ideal way to get current information on the solar industry, then we hope you will become a regular subscriber to the Solar STAT blog.

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Contact Us

For more information on STAT, or for help with the quarterly application, contact stat@nrel.gov.