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Round 2 of the Solar Energy Innovation Network

The second round of the Solar Energy Innovation Network comprises eight teams focused on novel applications of solar energy and other distributed energy resources in commercial-scale settings or rural communities.

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

NREL, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Rocky Mountain Institute are helping the eight teams realize and demonstrate these novel, often never-before-tried applications with extensive analytical and modeling support and facilitated stakeholder engagement.

The second round of the Innovation Network is expected to run through 2021 and conclude with a symposium at which teams will present their findings to organizations interested in similar efforts. Sign up for the Innovation Network mailing list to stay informed of their progress.

The eight teams participating in the second round of the Solar Energy Innovation Network are grouped into two cohorts based on shared challenges and goals.

Map of Innovation Network team states.

Commercial-Scale Solar Cohort

Teams in this cohort will identify and address barriers to commercial-scale solar (i.e., photovoltaic systems ranging in size from approximately 50 kW to 3 MW). Solar systems of these sizes are less common than their larger, utility-scale or smaller, residential-scale counterparts. Despite what the cohort’s name may suggest, it’s the average sizes of the systems—not their business uses—that unite these projects.

Broadly, teams in this cohort are exploring 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 is identifying ways to overcome barriers to support the installation of community shared solar (CSS) and CSS plus storage on commercial/industrial rooftops in New York City. With one of the nation’s most complex electrical grids as its pilot, the team members are also creating a guide to help other urban centers establish their own processes based on best practices for CSS and CSS plus storage. 

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 is collaborating with HBCUs and nearby energy-burdened residents in Atlanta to design an innovative urban energy resiliency hub integrating a microgrid, solar generation, and energy storage. The energy hub will help the HBCUs and the broader community to be more resilient. The team will design the resiliency hub, which includes technical, financial, and ownership considerations, to model a utility partnership. Eventually, this project will play 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 is working to quantify the financial value of resilience benefits from solar-plus-storage systems and apply that value to energy performance contracts. The project aims to create a highly transferable valuation model, develop a proof of concept for how the value of resilience can be incorporated into energy performance contracts, and advance city- and county-level policy direction for integrating solar-plus-storage applications into emergency response and public safety facilities and networks.

Lead Organization: Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council

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

State Represented: Florida 

This team is creating a regional technical and economic framework for integrating disaster risk reduction and other resilience factors into solar-plus-storage cost-benefit analyses. The project aims to develop model solar-plus-storage solutions and procurement strategies that can be deployed at critical facilities throughout Central Florida and beyond.

Solar in Rural Communities Cohort

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

Common themes in this cohort include 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 is developing a framework for community-focused solar siting and financing in rural communities. The project will demonstrate “bottom-up” solar siting processes driven by community residents and municipal officials and evaluate financing mechanisms that can keep solar benefits within the community. The project will result in actionable solar development plans for three rural Massachusetts communities along with clear protocols and templates to facilitate replication of the processes in other communities.

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 is developing a realistic, understandable accounting procedure for tracing and analyzing the value streams of solar deployment across members within an electric cooperative’s system. The project will produce a playbook for equitably capturing solar value in electric cooperatives that can inform East River and its members—as well as other cooperatives—in developing models of power-supply contracts and financial obligations to facilitate solar deployment that fairly impacts members and consumers. Finally, the project team is developing proposals for pilot organizational models for new solar projects.

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 is developing best practices for electric cooperatives interested in deploying solar plus storage amidst a fast-changing market and technology landscape. The deliverables produced by the team will offer guidance on local procurement models; sample procurement documents and service agreements; and innovations that meet the distribution cooperative’s needs for operational support, project flexibility, and integration value that increases with solar resource penetration.

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 is conducting a data-driven analysis to understand the potential value of adding battery energy storage to solar projects to reduce distribution upgrade costs and optimize solar hosting capacity. The project will produce criteria, guidelines, and a cost-benefit calculator for use by utilities and  developers.