Skip to main content

Solar Energy Innovation Network

The Solar Energy Innovation Network assembles diverse teams of stakeholders to research cutting-edge solutions for a more reliable and resilient grid.

Text version

The Solar Energy Innovation Network is a collaborative research effort administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office to develop and demonstrate new ways for solar energy to improve the affordability, reliability, and resiliency of the nation's electric grid.

By pairing teams of stakeholders from across the United States that are implementing pilot projects—including utilities, state and local governments, nonprofits, innovative companies, and system operators—with analytical support from a broad set of technical experts, the innovation network develops novel applications of solar energy and other distributed energy technologies. Rigorous demonstration and validation of these applications in real-world laboratories makes them ready for widespread adoption.

Participating Teams

For the first round of the Solar Energy Innovation Network, nine teams were selected and grouped into two cohorts based on shared challenges and goals.

A map of the United States shows the distribution of Solar Energy Innovation Network teams across the country, as described in the section of text below this image.

The program's first two cohorts bring together teams from across the country to address shared challenges and drive problem solving and innovation for tomorrow's electric grid.

Improving Reliability and Affordability of Renewable Energy through Options Analysis and Systems Design (or "Options Analysis") Cohort

This cohort focuses on identifying the grid impacts and costs anticipated for various penetration levels of solar and other distributed energy resources (DER). This includes:

  • Developing data sets and geo-spatial mapping tools that assess impacts on reliability of various levels of variable generation at municipal or utility service territory scale
  • Identifying and validate new solar siting methods that minimize grid impacts and reduce distribution system costs
  • Identifying innovative ownership models, financing structures, and procurement strategies
  • Exploring options for the integrated planning and deployment of solar and electric vehicles and solar+storage
  • Exploring alternative rate designs and compensation mechanisms.

The five project teams for this cohort are described below:

Lead organization: City of Orlando

Stakeholders: City of Orlando, Orlando Utility Commission, UCF Florida Solar Energy Center, Greenlink

Project Description: The City of Orlando aims to increase solar and solar with storage deployments to support energy resiliency, environmental quality, and the continued affordability of electricity supply. The effort includes identifying the total solar potential available city-wide and conducting more detailed analysis for municipal facilities and distribution grid modeling. A pilot project to demonstrate innovative siting solutions is also being planned.

States represented: Florida

Lead organization: City of San Diego

Stakeholders: City of San Diego, Clean Coalition, San Diego Gas & Electric (invited partner)

Project description: The City of San Diego also aims to increase solar and solar with storage deployments to support energy resiliency, environmental quality, and the continued affordability of the electricity supply. This project is determining solar deployment potential on municipal property and city-wide, gleaning lessons learned from past experiences with municipal solar, and developing solar and storage request-for-proposal templates that support municipal procurement of technology to improve city energy resiliency. A distribution grid power flow analysis may also be conducted (based on solar potential study results) to investigate the feasibility of micro grid development to provide energy resiliency for critical facilities. These activities also inform the development of a broader roadmap for clean energy technology deployment to support the city's stated targets.

States represented: California

Lead organization: Montana Renewable Energy Association

Stakeholders: Montana Renewable Energy Association, Montana Energy Office at the Department of Environmental Quality, City of Missoula, City of Bozeman, City of Whitefish, Climate Smart Missoula, Yellowstone-Teton Clean Cities

Project Description: The team is investigating the potential for powering electric vehicle charging infrastructure with solar power. They are investigating and identifying potential opportunities and challenges related to co-locating solar energy and EV charging infrastructure to enhance reliability of the electric grid. Broader lessons learned, replicable to other communities across Montana and the U.S., will be drawn from the solution sets identified and tested in the Montana communities of Bozeman, Missoula, and Whitefish.

States represented: Montana

Lead organization: Utah Clean Energy

Stakeholders: Utah Clean Energy, City of Moab, Park City, Salt Lake City, Rocky Mountain Power

Project Description: The Utah team aims to evaluate affordability and reliability of renewable generation for Salt Lake City, Park City, and Moab to inform an energy roadmap to meet the cities' clean energy and energy resiliency goals. The team is identifying the impacts of various electrification and demand side management technologies and programs and identify the technology and program options for deploying both customer-side and supply-side resources that are sufficient to meet defined load forecasts.

States represented: Utah

Lead organization: Kit Carson Electric Cooperative (KCEC)

Stakeholders: KCEC, Guzman Energy, Renewable Taos

Project Description: KCEC is currently partnering with multiple stakeholders to build an additional 35 megawatts of solar photovoltaics by strategically deploying smaller one-megawatt solar arrays throughout the tri-county service area. KCEC seeks to demonstrate a replicable model for other cooperative utilities interested in deploying solar and develop a road map and guidebook for rural electric cooperatives as they integrate resilient, renewable solar energy into their portfolios and participate in regional renewable energy plans. The road map will identify critical points for blending regionally generated solar energy and storage. KCEC seeks to develop a business model and best practices document to shift organizational structure, systems, and procedures which will build the internal capacity to make the clean energy transition, and continue to refine programs to engage stakeholders within their service area.

States represented: New Mexico

Improving Grid Flexibility and Resiliency through Advanced Siting and Operations of Solar + DER (or "Grid Flex") Cohort

This cohort focuses on quantifying the value of combining solar and other DERs, such as storage, for grid flexibility, reliability, and resiliency. Activities for this cohort include (but aren't limited to):

  • Assessing opportunities to improve PV's value through siting, load management, storage, and better integration with transportation electrification
  • Evaluating options for rate structures and other compensation mechanisms to effectively value solar + DER systems' various value streams
    • Exploring program and policy options to maximize the value of solar + DER, incl. locational value and wholesale market participation
    • Improving utility and ISO/RTO planning to incorporate PV and other DERs, and enhance grid resiliency and flexibility
  • Developing needed data sets and tools for states and ISOs to evaluate solar + DER solutions for increased grid resiliency.

Lead organizations: PJM Interconnection and National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC)

Stakeholders: NARUC, PJM Interconnection, Converge Strategies LLC

Project Description: This project is identifying opportunities for PV to participate in the wholesale markets and to support regional (and local) resilience efforts. This includes an exploration of how PV and storage systems can provide black start functionality and how such capability would complement (or hinder) the potential for PV to participate in capacity, demand response, frequency regulation markets, and/or to be aggregated to supply energy. The project is identifying market barriers and potential pathways forward with input from key stakeholders including   member utilities, relevant federal, state, and local governments, and the advanced energy industry.  The ultimate goal is to identify a roadmap for optimizing PV deployment in support of system resilience and to outline potential projects in which the concepts could be piloted.

States represented: PJM territory (includes Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia), and NARUC member commissions.

Lead organization: Clean Energy States Alliance

Stakeholders: Clean Energy States Alliance, Connecticut (Connecticut Green Bank), District of Columbia (Office of the People’s Counsel for the District of Columbia), New Hampshire (New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission), Rhode Island (Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources), Washington (Washington Department of Commerce’s State Energy Office), Wisconsin (Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation)

Project Description: This project is exploring approaches for identifying high-value locations for distributed solar and other distributed energy resources (DERs). The project broadly aims to help participating states understand and optimize locationally targeted DER deployment to reduce grid congestion, to avoid or defer distribution system upgrades, and to provide resiliency benefits. However, each participating state agency has its own specific goals under the project. Analytical support from NREL and its partners will be used to advance each participating state’s decision-making and goals related to locational DER deployment. Advancements and lessons learned from this project will be shared to assist other states facing similar opportunities and challenges.

States represented: Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia

Lead organization: Great Plains Institute

Stakeholders: Great Plains Institute, Minnesota Department of Commerce, Minnesota Department of Administration, ZEF Energy, Metropolitan Council, Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, Center for Energy and Environment

Project Description: This project is examining and documenting synergies between EV charging and distributed solar PV. Findings from pilot programs as well as research and analysis inform a roadmap for linked or joint development of EV charging infrastructure and solar PV. The roadmap  focuses on methods of obtaining the full value of the resources and the infrastructure needed to support cost-effective EV and PV deployment while supporting grid reliability. This project aims to design and implement a pilot that can yield lessons learned to inform the roadmap development process.

States represented: Minnesota

Lead organization: Center for Climate Protection

Stakeholders: Center for Climate Protection, Chris Cone Consulting, TerraVerde Energy LLC, Lancaster Choice Energy, Peninsula Clean Energy, Grid Policy LLC, California Solar & Storage Association

Project Description: This project is developing a tool that can produce rate structures to incentivize Distributed Energy Resource (DER) deployment in a technologically agnostic way (e.g., distributed solar PV, energy efficiency, energy storage, electric vehicles, and demand response technologies) that load-serving entities (LSE) can readily adopt and customize to target high-value grid locations. The tool will provide a transparent methodology for valuing benefits of DER installations that can also be adapted to technological advances and customized to conditions in LSE territories. The tool will be piloted in partnership with California Community Choice Agencies (CCAs), but the methodologies applied to DER valuation and the advanced rate concepts the tool features will support any LSE, as well as other Innovation Network projects.

States represented: California

Peer Network

Lead organization: University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Stakeholders: REDLab, Greenpath Technologies, State of Hawaii Division of Consumer Advocacy (DCA)

Project Description: The long-term objective of this project is to develop coordinated control algorithms for battery energy storage systems (BESS) to mitigate hosting capacity constraints on distribution circuits for solar PV systems. In the near-term, University of Hawaiʻi at Mãnoa researchers are developing a BESS performance model using real-world and test bed data. Using this BESS performance model, the team is developing an economic model to estimate the economic impact to customers purchasing PV generation and/or BESS across a spectrum of policy, program, and rate structure scenarios. The State of Hawaii Division of Consumer Advocacy's role in the project is limited to providing guidance on key policy issues and does not involve the provision of data resources.

Geographic Area Represented: Hawai'i

Lead organization: New York Power Authority (NYPA)

Stakeholders: NYPA

Project Description: The New York Power Authority (NYPA) is a state-owned generation and transmission provider charged with the provision of reliable, low-cost, and clean electricity and energy services for the benefit of high-load-factor industrial, commercial, governmental, and municipal customers. NYPA's Energy Diversity through Grid Edge (EDGE) initiative is focused on finding new and innovative ways to deliver distributed energy resources to customers. Interventions currently range from simple energy efficiency measures, such as LED lighting installation, to development and operation of combined solar and energy storage assets. In the short term, the team is focusing on solar and storage for its 51 municipal and cooperative customers. Moving forward, NYPA will look to test more advanced value-based services and products such as load aggregation, load management, and peer-to-peer trading.

Geographic Area Represented: New York

Lead organization: Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER)

Stakeholders: Garfield Clean Energy (government collaborative), Eagle County, Pitkin County, Xcel Energy, Holy Cross Energy, Glenwood Springs Municipal Utility, Aspen Municipal Utility, Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE), Walking Mountains Science Center, Colorado Mountain College, Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Project Description: The Western Colorado Rural Clean Energy Corridor initiative is a collaborative project spanning three counties in western Colorado. The project aims to create and implement a shared roadmap to meet the region's renewable energy goals while maximizing local economic diversification and job training benefits. The effort will focus on developing a regional approach to renewable energy development that meets a diverse set of economic drivers and objectives.

Geographic Areas Represented: Colorado; Garfield, Pitkin, and Eagle Counties; Communities of Parachute, Rifle, Silt, New Castle, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Basalt, Aspen, Snowmass Village, Eagle, Vail, Avon, Gypsum, Minturn

Lead organization: Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA)

Stakeholders: RCEA, McKeever Energy and Electric, Backwoods Solar, Humboldt County Planning and Building Permitting Department, Schatz Energy Research Center, The Energy Authority

Project Description: RCEA is a community choice aggregator in Humboldt County, California that has been procuring electric power on behalf of some 60,000 customers in the county since May 2017. RCEA has a goal of developing 15 megawatts of new local solar capacity by 2022. In addition to challenges associated with operating in a primarily rural, low-income community with limited financial and power infrastructure resources, RCEA is also addressing technical challenges related to designing properly-sized solar and energy storage systems, including the physical controls and optimal control algorithms to operate such systems. The overarching goals of this project include: (1) developing methods and metrics for incorporating battery storage and resiliency considerations in evaluating project feasibility; and (2) determining optimal control strategies for charging and discharging battery storage systems to provide economic benefits, deliver ancillary grid services, and facilitate the increased deployment of renewable energy resources on the local distribution system.

Geographic Area Represented: Humboldt County, California

Lead organization: Extensible Energy

Stakeholders: Extensible Energy

Project Description: Extensible Energy is exploring new business models and partner ecosystems to simplify combined solar, storage, and load management solutions for commercial energy customers. These efforts compliment the team's ongoing software development and testing initiatives to enable commercial customers to maximize the use of behind-the-meter solar PV installations through a combination of energy storage and automated load flexibility solutions.

Geographic Areas Represented: California

Lead Organizations: Coalition for a Resilient D.C., Mission: data Coalition

Stakeholders: D.C. Department of General Services

Project Description:  This project aims to demonstrate an IT platform to supply DER developers with necessary data—including customer energy usage data, bill histories, dynamic hosting capacity by distribution circuit, and interconnection information—to facilitate expanded energy efficiency, demand response, and rooftop solar applications.

Geographic Areas Represented: Washington, D.C.

Lead organization: Seven Generations Ahead

Stakeholders: Village of Oak Park; Village of River Forest; Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation; Oak Park Residence Corporation; Oak Park Housing Authority; Park District of Oak Park; Seven Generations Ahead; Illinois Community Choice Aggregation Network;

Project Description: The Oak Park-River Forest PlanItGreen initiative incorporates a combination of renewable energy road map planning and implementation, with an emphasis on low-to-moderate income (LMI) and non-profit procurement goals. Strategies and project objectives include: (1) creating a solar energy development and procurement road map for the villages of Oak Park and River Forest, Illinois; (2) developing and implementing a pipeline of solar projects, including behind-the-meter on-site installations, community solar, and utility-scale project that collectively meet renewable energy, LMI, and non-profit procurement goals; (3) identifying and overcoming barriers to grid connections, LMI household enrollment, and non-profit power purchase agreement contracts; (4) developing outreach, education and enrollment strategies that connect LMI households and multi-family building complexes with solar applications; and (5) adapting successful strategies and lessons-learned across Chicago metro area communities.

Geographic Areas Represented: Oak Park and River Forest, Illinois

Lead organization: Pasco County Planning and Development Department

Stakeholders: County of Pasco, Metro Development Group, Tampa Bay Builders Association

Project Description: The Pasco County Planning and Development Department, along with Metro Development Group and the Tampa Bay Builders Association, is exploring approaches for pairing solar energy applications with real estate development. The initiative focuses on studying, drafting, and incorporating innovative, incentive-based code and performance standards into the county's Land Development Code, with the goal of incentivizing real estate developers to integrate solar energy generation with new real estate offerings, underutilized land and buildings, and building renovations.

Geographic Areas Represented: Pasco County, Florida

Lead organization: South Lake Tahoe 100% Renewable Committee

Stakeholders: City of South Lake Tahoe, South Lake Tahoe 100% Renewable Committee, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Sierra Nevada Alliance, Liberty Utilities

Project Description: This project focuses on evaluating potential combinations of approaches to reach the city's energy goals, and will include scenario identification and modeling, cost-benefit analyses, and a gap analysis to help prioritize city energy actions.

Geographic Areas Represented: City of South Lake Tahoe, Lake Tahoe, California

Program Structure

Through a competitive solicitation process in summer 2017, NREL sought applicants for multi-stakeholder teams to participate in the first round of the program and conduct real-world research that can be applied in their community or region.

Each cohort focuses on new and emerging challenges related growing levels of renewable energy on the grid and the need for increasing grid flexibility and resiliency. Through coordinated engagement within the cohorts, teams work together to identify local and regional impacts, formulate and test innovations, and validate new models. Participants are also assigned to peer networks to cross-pollinate solutions across varying geographies, market and rate structures, infrastructure, and grid characteristics.

Over the course of 12 to 18 months, teams receive analytical support and direction from NREL and other expert partners, ensuring the academic rigor and viability of resulting solutions. The outcomes of each research cycle feed into the continual development and testing of new concepts, models, and designs. This process takes into account real-world considerations and the dynamic energy landscape, leading to an end product that’s sound and that includes insights that are only available through real-world scenarios.

Insights and results from the program will be shared at a replication conference, through NREL publications, and on this website.

Read more in the factsheet


Please direct questions to the program administrator at

Subscribe to the Solar Energy Innovation Network Mailing List

NREL will use your information to send timely news or event information to your inbox for as long as you are subscribed. Change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us. We will treat your information with respect. Learn more about NREL's security and privacy policies.