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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.


Utah: Monthly Net Energy Metering Fees Debated

August 28, 2014

This is the second blog in a four-part series of articles in which we discuss either the valuation of solar to the grid and various stakeholders or value-of-solar (VOS) tariffs and policies. For background and definitions of these terms, please see the "Louisiana: Net Metering Cost/Benefit Study Authorized" post.

Should utilities charge solar energy system owners a monthly net energy metering (NEM) fee to account for transmission and distribution costs that some consider avoided by those with photovoltaic (PV) systems? Utah is one of several states investigating how to appropriately value the benefits and costs of solar as it tries to answer this question.

In 2002, Utah enacted a net metering policy that required qualifying electric co-operatives and Rocky Mountain Power (RMP)—the state's only investor-owned utility—to accept residential renewable energy systems up to 25 kilowatts (kW) and commercial systems up to 2 megawatts (MW) until the utilities reached 0.1% of their 2007 peak demand (DSIRE 2014). In 2009, the PSC raised the 0.1% cap to 20% and said that NEM customers must still pay a minimum bill charge that RMP charges all of its customers (DSIRE 2014).

Over the years, the falling price of solar photovoltaic technologies has combined with both state and federal tax incentives to drive 30% annual growth in RMP customer-owned solar. Earlier this year, the Utah legislature passed SB 224-Renewable Tax Credit amendments. The amendments established a production tax credit for 25% of the cost (up to $2,000) of a commercial solar energy system with a capacity between 600 kW and 2 MW, along with an investment tax credit of 10% for commercial solar projects with a capacity greater than 600 kW (S.B. 224, 2014). By allowing the choice between two different tax credits for projects between 600 kW and 2 MW, this bill aims to incentivize a range of PV project sizes (Barrett 2014). Currently, more than 2,700 customers own solar panels in the RMP service territory (Maffly 2014).

In January 2014, when RMP requested a rate increase from the Utah Public Service Commission (PSC), the utility also asked for permission to charge NEM customers a $4.25 (later changed to $4.65) monthly fee (IREC 2014). Issues such as those highlighted in Edison Electric's 2013 report, Disruptive Challenges: Financial Implications and Strategic Responses to a Changing Retail Electric Business, may have motivated RMP to approach the PSC with a base rate increase and monthly NEM fee request (Barrett, 2014). The Edison report warns of the "financial risks created by disruptive challenges [e.g. distributed generation] including declining utility revenues, increasing costs, and lower profitability, particularly over the long-term" (Kind 2013, p. 1).

The rate increase request was settled, but discussions on the NEM fee continue as stakeholders await a ruling from the Utah PSC, which is expected in September (Hayes 2014). During the discussions, Governor Gary Herbert signed Senate bill 208 in March, allowing "the Commission to determine a fee, credit, or other ratemaking structure after conducting a cost-benefit analysis of net-metered systems" (IREC 2014). To date, Utah has not completed any comprehensive study of the costs and benefits of net metering (Barrett 2014).

During the 2014 PSC process, four interveners filed testimony in opposition to the NEM monthly fee (Hayes 2014). Groups including the Sierra Club and Utah Clean Energy have filed testimony about the quantifiable benefits of solar energy to aid the PSC in its assessment of RMP's current rate case, but there isn't enough time to conduct a formal cost-benefit analysis within the timeframe of the rate case (Hayes 2014). Solar supporters, like Utah Clean Energy, believe that distributed solar generation provides quantifiable benefits to utilities and customers alike. They prefer that a formal cost-benefit analysis be conducted with input from a wide range of parties so that a robust methodology can be developed and applied in future rate cases (Hayes 2014). Solar advocates believe that the PSC should not issue a monthly NEM fee until it conducts its own cost-benefit analysis.

Utilities and their supporters think that the PSC could authorize RMP's monthly NEM fee as part of the rate case and then conduct the full cost-benefit analysis at a later date (Hayes 2014). RMP contends that the monthly NEM fee allows the utility to collect for the cost of transmission and distribution infrastructure that both NEM and non-NEM customers use (Taylor 2014). Utah utilities have been paying attention to the national NEM conversation, particularly the push from utilities to impose NEM fees and protect their business model from the changes posed by distributed generation (Hayes, 2014). Like other states, debate about Utah's NEM has touched on cross-subsidization concerns in addition to potential utility revenue decline.

As in much of the country, the rhetoric surrounding recent NEM issues in Utah has been heated. The PSC's ruling will be high profile and widely discussed, given that there have already been nearly a dozen editorials about RMP's proposed NEM fee (Barrett 2014). Utah Clean Energy has also received many phone calls about the issue since January (Hayes 2014). RMP's January rate case request mobilized interested citizens to create a group called Utah Citizens Advocating for Renewable Energy (Hayes 2014).

RMP, like other utilities nationwide, is conceiving of ways to align rates with utility system use as more customers choose to purchase solar PV and enter NEM programs. The Utah PSC may decide to conduct deeper analysis into the costs and benefits of distributed solar generation while sifting through utility and stakeholder concerns, tax credits supporting solar PV expansion, heightened media attention, and growing demand for solar among Utah residents.

According to Jeffrey Barrett at the Utah Office of Energy Development, RMP recognizes customer interest in solar and is considering additional options to their current "Blue Sky" renewable energy credit (REC) program (Barrett 2014). At the moment, RMP representatives are seeking feedback from selected Utah opinion leaders about how to alternatively serve this customer need without adopting a third-party power purchase agreement model (Barrett 2014).

Sources

Barrett, J. Phone Interview. Utah Office of Energy Development. June 25, 2014.

Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE). 2014. "Utah: Incentives/Policies for Renewables and Efficiency." http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=UT04R&re=0&ee=0. Accessed June 30, 2014.

Hayes, Sophie. Phone Interview. Utah Clean Energy. July 2, 2014.

Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC). 2014. "Utah Enacts Net Metering Legislation, Avoiding Customer Penalties." http://www.irecusa.org/2014/04/utah-enacts-net-metering-legislation-avoiding-customer-penalties/. Accessed June 25, 2014.

Kind, Peter. 2013. Disruptive Challenges: Financial Implications and Strategic Responses to a Changing Retail Electric Business. Prepared for Edison Electric Institute.

Maffly, Brian. May 22, 2014. "Utah's solar power homeowners fight proposed utility fee." The Salt Lake Tribune. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57966967-78/power-solar-customers-net.html.csp. Accessed June 27, 2014.

S.B 224. "Renewable Energy Tax Credit Amendments." 2014. Utah Legislature.

Taylor, Dave. Phone Interview. Utah Regulatory Affairs, Rocky Mountain Power. July 7, 2014.

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Louisiana: Net Metering Cost/Benefit Study Authorized

August 21, 2014

This is the first blog in a four-part series of articles in which we discuss either the valuation of solar to the grid and various stakeholders or value-of-solar (VOS) tariffs and policies.

A VOS policy or tariff is an alternative policy option for addressing some of the potential challenges of net energy metering (NEM). It is important to acknowledge the difference between the broadly utilized terminology "valuation of solar" and a VOS tariff. A valuation of solar method strives to determine the market value of distributed generation projects. Numerous studies across the United States have sought to quantify the value of solar to the grid. A VOS tariff is the actual policy enacted wherein a rate is calculated and then utilized in crediting solar customers for their generation.

Following the creation of VOS tariffs in Austin (2006) and Minnesota (2014), policymakers across the United States began investigating how best to quantify the benefits and costs of solar. Since the 2005 enactment of a state net-metering policy in Louisiana, policymakers there have been analyzing the law's effects and discussing modifications.

Louisiana's 50% tax credit (up to $12,500) on residential solar net-metered systems and 30% federal tax credit have spurred the growth of net-metering customers throughout the state. Net-metered residential photovoltaic (PV) systems numbered close to zero in 2003, but increased to nearly 1,400 by 2013 (LPSC Staff Report, 2013).

Currently, residential customers with qualifying renewable energy resources, such as solar PV panels and geothermal units, that are producing less than 25 kilowatts (kW) and commercial customers whose systems produce less than 300 kW can receive a retail-rate bill credit from their utility for extra electricity produced but not consumed until net-metering purchases reach 0.5% of a utility's "retail peak load" (DSIRE, 2014). Projects larger than 300 kW are accepted by the utility on a case-by-case basis. Louisiana's NEM law also states that once a utility hits its 0.5% NEM cap, "...it is no longer required to accept net metering applications" (Louisiana Public Service Commission, 2013, 17). According to solar advocates, several utilities have claimed that they have met their NEM cap and have chosen to halt further NEM applications (Phelps, 2014). In jurisdictions where this is true, further customer-sited renewables will not be possible without modifications to existing laws.

Louisiana's current 0.5% NEM cap came out of a 2011 PSC ruling that also expanded commercial net metering limits from 100 kW to 300 kW in response to concerns from the solar industry that the original size limitation was too small (Verzwyveit, 2014). The ruling requires the PSC to revisit the 0.5% cap once a utility in its jurisdiction reaches the cap, and also allows utilities to suspend additional customer NEM applications in the interim (LPSC Staff Report, 2013).

Three electric coops in rural Louisiana (Panola-Harrison, Northeast, and Washington-St. Tammany) have stopped accepting net-metering applications from consumers because they have already reached their 0.5% caps (Alliance for Affordable Energy, 2014). Each utility, however, calculates this 0.5% cap differently because the LPSC does not have a standard cap calculation (Phelps, 2014). For example, utilities can currently choose the month in which they measure average peak load which is used to determine when a utility has reached its 0.5% net-metering cap (Bradley-Wright, 2014). A review of Panola-Harrison, Northeast, and Washington-St. Tammany's NEM cap calculation methods is still pending (Verzwyveit, 2014).

Between 2011 and 2013, discussion about the appropriateness of the solar net-metering tax credit and whether non-net metering customers were subsidizing net-metering customers (i.e. cross-subsidization) continued at the PSC. In April 2013, the PSC staff issued a report claiming that cross-subsidization was occurring in Louisiana and offered several options for addressing the concern (Verzwyveit, 2014; LPSC Staff Report, 2013). According to the PSC, commissioners felt they had inadequate information about NEM benefits at the time to justify a rule change (Verzwyveit, 2014). Furthermore, solar advocates, like the Alliance for Affordable Energy, The Alliance for Solar Choice, and the Gulf States Renewable Energy Industry Association, argued that the PSC should not change its NEM rules until it gathers and weighs all evidence of NEM costs and benefits (Bradley-Wright, 2014). The recent call for a cost-benefit analysis arose from this discussion.

On March 13, 2014, the Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC) issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a cost-benefit analysis of NEM. The LSPC chose to use remaining American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to commission the NEM analysis (Verzwyveit, 2014). The original RFP was followed by a revised version on March 18 "seeking proposals from independent technical consultants to assist the Commission in reviewing the legal and technical issues related to [net metering in Louisiana]," the results of which would "enable the Commission to make an informed decision regarding the costs and benefits of net metering and assist it in developing appropriate policies for Louisiana (LPSC RFP 14-06, 2014)."

Several consultants responded to the RFP, but Acadian Consulting Group LLC (Arcadian) out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ultimately won the contract. Acadian is set to launch a website for collecting stakeholder comments about what should or should not be considered in the cost-benefit analysis soon (Verzwyveit, 2014). Results of the analysis will inform the LPSC as it considers raising the 0.5% net-metering capacity limit per utility (Lacy, 2014).

Stakeholder passions run high on both sides of the net-metering issue in Louisiana. One particular challenge of navigating such a dynamic policy space is managing participation in the utility commission rulemaking process. Typically, the LPSC interacts with large entities—notably utilities—that are familiar with the rulemaking process, but in this case large numbers of ordinary citizens have been contributing input about NEM. Staff members at the LPSC have tried to inform people about formally participating in the rulemaking process to make sure their voices are heard (Verzwyveit, 2014). Additionally, identifying the effects of a uniform net-metering policy and cap can be challenging for Louisiana, because each utility's rate structure differs and will be uniquely impacted by net-metering (Verzwyveit, 2014).

The outcome of the cost-benefit analysis due by late October could lead to a LPSC rulemaking on net-metering, but any future action will depend on the study results. Advocacy organizations such as the Louisiana Alliance for Affordable Energy and Vote Solar hope that the recent request for a cost-benefit analysis spurs the PSC to increase the net-metering cap and standardize the net-metering methodology (Bradley-Wright 2014; Phelps, 2014). Forest Bradley-Wright, of the Louisiana Alliance for Affordable Energy, questions whether Louisiana's current 0.5% cap is consequential enough to impact the results of a cost-benefit analysis (Bradley-Wright, 2014).

We'll keep following these interesting developments in Louisiana's solar market. The state has long-standing solar incentives, and it appears that existing NEM caps are starting to limit additional deployment in some utilities' jurisdictions.

Sources

Alliance for Affordable Energy. 2014. "Latest on Solar Net-Metering Policy at the LA PSC." http://all4energy.org/2014/04/latest-on-solar-net-metering-policy-at-the-la-psc/. Accessed June 26, 2014. Bradley-Wright, Forest. Phone interview. Alliance for Affordable Energy. June 20, 2014.

Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE). 2014. "Louisiana: Incentives/Policies for Renewables and Efficiency." Updated on 6/20/2014. http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=LA02R&re=0&ee=0. Accessed July 2, 2014.

Lacy, Stephen. 2014 "As Net Metering Battles Move to Small Markets, Solar Advocates Claim Early Victories; Could Minnesota be a model for brokering a truce?" Green Tech Media. http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Solar-Advocates-Claim-Early-Victories-in-Net-Metering-Battles. Accessed July 16, 2014

Louisiana Public Service Commission. 2014. "RFP 14-06 (amended)." http://www.lpsc.louisiana.gov/_docs/_RFP/RFP%2014-06%20(AMENDED).pdf. Accessed June 26, 2014.

Louisiana Public Service Commission. 2013. Docket No. R 31417. "Staff Report and Recommendation."

Louisiana Public Service Commission. 2013. Docket No. R 31417. "General Order: Re-examination of the Commission's Net Energy Metering Rules Found in General Order No. R-27558." http://lpscstar.louisiana.gov/star/ViewFile.aspx?Id=ed28c1bd-2a6d-4460-906e-c9aa8554ad01. Accessed July 24, 2014.

Phelps, Nathan. 2014. "Small Steps on the Long Road to Raising the Louisiana Net Metering Cap." The Vote Solar Initiative. http://votesolar.org/2014/03/13/small-steps-on-the-long-road-to-raising-the-louisiana-net-metering-cap/. Accessed July 2, 2014.

Testa, Dan. 2014. "La. PSC calls for cost-benefit analysis of net metering." SNL. http://www.snl.com/interactivex/article.aspx?id=27281801&KPLT=6. Accessed July 2, 2014.

Verzwyveit, Melanie. Phone interview. Louisiana Public Service Commission. June 30, 2014.

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Solar Technical Assistance Team Profile: Erin Nobler

August 14, 2014

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

Erin Nobler, Market Transformation Center Project Lead

What are your primary research interests?

I'm currently very interested in the net energy metering discussion that is happening in a lot of locations across the country. I'm looking forward to diving into this research more in the upcoming weeks and months.

What were you working on this morning?

This morning I was working on a webinar we're putting together that provides an overview of solar tools available here at NREL that can help state and local decision makers with their solar policies. We're doing a four-part summer webinar series on assessing, analyzing, and optimizing market conditions, so check out our Do-It-Yourself Solar Market Analysis page to see what topics we're covering.

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

I'm really interested in the opportunity for solar to be used in resilience and emergency planning. There is a huge opportunity to use solar in a way that will provide critical assistance during and right after natural disasters, so I am looking forward to seeing how cities are going to implement it in a useful way.

What opportunities do you see for solar?

I recently attended an event with Grid Alternatives, and I really love the idea of getting solar onto the roofs of non-traditional solar homeowners and providing needed electricity bill relief. This method really opens the doors to making PV more accessible to more people.

What challenges do you see?

I think this benefits and costs of solar discussion that we're seeing is going to be quite challenging to solve. There are a lot of opposing viewpoints and business models that are going to make coming to a collaborative resolution quite tricky. I also see this as an opportunity, though, to have a comprehensive conversation about how we as a society value solar and the benefits it can provide.

What is your favorite thing about providing technical assistance?

I absolutely love working with people that are passionate and driven and just need the informational resources to get things done. Motivated individuals and groups create such a powerful force that you feel inspired and ready to take on even the toughest challenges.

What are you reading outside of work? And/or, what are your non-work interests/activities?

I just finished the book Monuments Men. I would highly recommend it to anyone. It does a great job of explaining the accomplishments of an amazing group of men and women while still feeling like an action-adventure book. As for activities, I just adopted a one-year-old dog named Daisy May, so she is currently taking up almost all of my non-work time with running, brushing, cuddling, and training. However, when I'm not running around the park with her, you can find me skiing, camping, relaxing in my backyard, and spending time up in the mountains.

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Jurisdictional Authority: Who Has the (Solar) Power?

August 5, 2014

Jurisdictional authority has been a complex issue for more than a century. As the Cornell University Law School's website elegantly puts it, "The question of whether a given court has the power to determine a jurisdictional question is itself a jurisdictional question." Some states allow localities to have significant decision making authority on select topics, while others only grant limited control. With more than 18,000 jurisdictions established throughout the United States, it can be difficult to understand who has the power when multiple jurisdictions may be operating within a single county.

The issue of overlapping jurisdictions has come up in several NREL Solar Technical Assistance Team (STAT) requests. Fortunately, there are several opportunities for using policies and programs to support solar markets in many different jurisdictional authority contexts.

So what do people mean by Home Rule vs Dillon's Rule? In 1868, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in which Justice John Forrest Dillon said, "Municipal corporations owe their origin to, and derive their powers and rights wholly from, the legislature" (Clinton v. Cedar Rapids and Missouri River. R.R. – 24 Iowa 455, 1868). This ruling is widely known as Dillon's Rule. It allows states to define their own powers to regulate local affairs or grant authority to local jurisdictions. Many states have used Dillon's Rule to grant some authority to local governments, which is considered Home Rule. For more information on Dillon's and Home Rule outside of the solar context, see the National League of Cities website.

Both Dillon's Rule states and Home Rule jurisdictions have opportunities when it comes to developing solar markets. In some instances, local governments are in a position to understand the needs and wants of the members of their local community better than their state governments. Greater powers granted to local governments can empower municipalities to tailor solutions that fit local needs.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is also evidence that state authority can lead to optimized policy for market development due to increased regulatory uniformity. Local control has the potential to fracture the regulatory environment and increase investor risk throughout the region. State policy, on the other hand, can create a more consistent system of regulations.

One key area where jurisdictional overlap has impacted the solar market is permitting. Permitting costs can have a large impact on the installed cost of a photovoltaic (PV) system, and therefore, the broader market development. Several local governments are streamlining the permitting process, while others have pre-empted control to effectively reduce permitting costs. The best choice for any given state depends on the existing relationship between the jurisdictions and the state, but both levels of authority have demonstrated successful strategies.

State pre-emption of local authority can create uniformity as in the case of Colorado capping local solar permitting fees. Prior to 2011, Colorado's permit fees were rapidly escalating and, in some jurisdictions, exceeded the cost of the PV equipment (VoteSolar 2011). Fees ranged from less than $250 in some counties to greater than $2,000 in others (VoteSolar 2011). In response to these escalating fees, the Colorado state legislature extended existing caps on permit fees and closed loopholes to further reduce costs.

Local governments also have the ability to move markets through innovative permitting processes. The City of Chicago, for instance, created the Green Permits Program in which projects can receive permits within 15-30 days and also qualify for partial waiver of review fees (DSIRE 2012). With support from the SunShot Initiative Rooftop Solar Challenge, Broward County in Florida launched the streamlined Go SOLAR website, which can provide a solar energy system permit and a preapproved set of design plans in just 30 minutes.

Ultimately, both states and local governments can accomplish solar market support goals—regardless of the overlapping jurisdictional policies in place. A high level of coordination and communication between state and local government authorities seems to create the greatest opportunity for success in solar market advancement.

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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.