Rural- and Commercial-Scale Solar: Solar Energy Innovation Network Round 2

During the second round of the Solar Energy Innovation Network (SEIN), eight teams focused on novel applications of solar energy and other distributed energy resources in commercial-scale settings and rural communities.

Teams that participated in the second round of the Innovation Network joined the program to explore applications of solar energy in their communities. Common themes included solar plus storage, the resilience benefits of solar, and the value of solar in distributed systems—though each team pursued its own approach.

NREL, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Rocky Mountain Institute provided the teams with extensive analytical and modeling support and facilitated stakeholder engagement. With this support, the teams were able to identify and demonstrate novel, often never-before-tried applications and approaches to solar deployment.

The second round of the Innovation Network concluded with a virtual symposium in which teams presented their findings to organizations interested in overcoming similar barriers and scaling the teams’ solutions.

The eight teams that participated in the second round of the Innovation Network were grouped into two cohorts based on shared challenges and goals.

Map of Innovation Network team states.

Commercial-Scale Solar Cohort

Teams in this cohort identified and addressed barriers to commercial-scale solar (i.e., photovoltaic [PV] systems ranging in size from approximately 50 kW to 3 MW). Solar systems of this size are less common than their larger, utility-scale or smaller, residential-scale counterparts. Broadly, teams in this cohort explored the use of solar-plus-storage systems to unlock this market segment.

Lead Organization: Sustainable CUNY of the City University of New York/Smart Distributed Generation Hub

Team Members: Underwriters Laboratories, Electric Power Research Institute, Con Edison, New York Power Authority, and Real Estate Board of New York

State Represented: New York

This team identified ways to overcome barriers to supporting the installation of community shared solar and community shared solar plus storage on commercial/industrial rooftops in New York City. The team developed a comprehensive accounting of barriers and detailed potential solutions to overcome those barriers. The team also developed a complementary tool for potential community solar host sites to be able to evaluate the economics of different use cases (e.g., leasing rooftop space vs. owning a solar system directly). 

Lead Organization: Groundswell Community Power

Team Members: Partnership for Southern Equity, the Atlanta University Center Consortium and its member historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and Spelman College

State Represented: Georgia

This team collaborated to develop plans for a pair of microgrids at the Atlanta University Center and in a neighboring energy-burdened community. The microgrids serve the dual purpose of providing resilience benefits to each community while also creating a mechanism to expand solar adoption. This project has also played a role in engaging and educating local communities and HBCU students about renewable energy sources and community resilience efforts.

Lead Organization: City of Reno

Team Members: Nevada Governor's Office of Energy, NV Energy, and Ameresco

State Represented: Nevada 

This team worked to develop an approach for the City of Reno to consider resilient energy infrastructure investment, including developing an understanding of which factors needed to be considered and the role that resilience valuation can or should play in that process. The team worked across city government and with external stakeholders to assemble the network of people and organizations needed to apply this new approach, then secured opportunities to implement resilient solar and storage efforts in the future.

Lead Organization: Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council

Team Members: Pinellas County, Manatee County, and Solar Energy Management LLC

State Represented: Florida 

The Clear Sky team developed a toolkit that provides local governments and community partners with questions and resources for assessing the siting prioritization and feasibility of solar plus storage for disaster resilience purposes. The Clear Sky Toolkit adds to this emerging area of research and practice by addressing the need for a standardized approach to making resilience-based decisions about solar and storage that are consistent across cities and counties in different regions. By aligning solar-plus-storage investments with specific risk reduction goals, the toolkit serves as a multipurpose resource to support disaster preparedness, increase justification for solar-plus-storage implementation, and encourage the integration of solar and storage into capital improvements as a pre-disaster mitigation strategy.

Solar in Rural Communities Cohort

For many applications of solar energy, a rural setting can exacerbate common barriers and present unique challenges. This cohort involved rural communities interested in adopting solar energy and pursuing novel solutions to these barriers.

Common themes in this cohort included solar for electric cooperatives and the use of energy storage paired with solar on wide-ranging, rural electric distribution systems.

Lead Organization: Clean Energy Extension at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

Team Members: University of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Conservation, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Western Massachusetts Community Choice Energy Task Force, UMassFive College Credit Union, Northeast Solar, PV Squared, Co-op Power, and the towns of Blandford, Wendell, and Westhampton

State Represented: Massachusetts

This team developed a framework for community-focused solar siting and financing in rural communities. The project demonstrated "bottom-up" solar siting processes driven by community residents and municipal officials and evaluated financing mechanisms that kept solar benefits within the community. The project focused on three rural Massachusetts communities and produced a solar resource and infrastructure assessment, a guide to evaluate ownership and financing options for local benefits, and a toolkit for municipalities to replicate project outcomes.

Lead Organizations: University of Minnesota and East River Electric Power Cooperative

Team Members: University of Minnesota Center for Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy; Clean Energy Resource Teams; Great Plains Institute; Renville-Sibley Cooperative Power Association; Lyon-Lincoln Electric Cooperative; Sioux Valley Energy; Bon Homme Yankton Electric Association; STAR Energy Services LLC; Minnesota Farmer's Union; Minnesota Rural Electric Association; and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

States Represented: South Dakota and Minnesota 

This team focused on deepening understanding of how electric cooperatives can design equitable solar PV projects consistent with the goals of their organizations. To understand the possibilities for equitable solar deployment, the project team carefully defined cross-subsidy by delving into the multilevel structure of electric cooperatives. Understanding that utilities and analysts apply different cost-categorization perspectives was key to developing a transparent analytic model that traces the economic value flows of new solar PV projects across the tiers of a cooperative system. The team produced a report that synthesized the key findings of this study for electric cooperative managers and stakeholders and pointed to future areas of research and collaboration.

Lead Organization: Cliburn and Associates, LLC

Team Members: Cobb Electric Membership Corp., Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, United Power, North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, and Extensible Energy

States Represented: Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico, and North Carolina

This team developed best practices to increase the pace and impact of solar-plus-storage procurements for rural distribution utilities. The project produced a spreadsheet-based early-stage decision model to help co-ops and other utilities evaluate potential solar-plus-storage projects. In addition, the team provided guidance on local procurement models, sample procurement documents and service agreements, and other resources.

Lead Organizations: Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources and Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers

Team Members: National Grid and Clean Energy States Alliance

State Represented: Rhode Island 

This team developed an analytical approach to identify alternative options for managing interconnection costs and streamlining interconnection timelines for distribution system-connected PV systems not co-located with load. The project responded to challenges the team identified associated with interconnecting solar PV in rural areas in Rhode Island (e.g., requirements for costly and time-consuming upgrades). The team detailed and applied a technical analysis methodology to identify time-based operational parameters for a distributed energy resource system to mitigate violations on a utility distribution feeder. The project also explored the economic feasibility of the technical options identified.

The team also documented one possible contractual agreement, referred to as an Operating Envelope Agreement (OEA). The objective of an OEA is to identify a mutually agreeable set of technical operating requirements for a PV and storage system (including hours of enforcement, called an “Operating Envelope”) that limits risk to neighboring customers and the utility’s electric infrastructure, as well as providing certainty to both the utility and the PV system owner.


Visit the SEIN publications page and filter by Round 2 to see all the publications from second round teams.