Skip to main content

Solar Energy Innovation Network

The Solar Energy Innovation Network's innovative program design assembles diverse teams of stakeholders to research solutions to real-world challenges associated with solar energy adoption.

Text version

 

Solar Energy Innovation Network Logo. U.S. Department of Energy

 

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 Solar Energy Technologies Office. An innovative program design brings together teams of stakeholders from across the United States—including utilities, state and local governments, nonprofits, innovative companies, and electric system operators. With the support of technical experts from national laboratories and other research institutions, these teams work to implement innovative applications of solar and distributed energy resources (DERs) in their unique locations and contexts. The solutions developed by the teams are demonstrated and validated in real-world contexts, making them ready for replication and scale.

The first round of the Innovation Network comprises nine teams that are developing and demonstrating new ways for solar and DERs to improve the affordability, reliability, and resiliency of the nation's electric grid.  Their activities include:

  • Developing methods and tools to identify solar potential on a city-wide scale to inform planning
  • Producing a distribution system modeling tool to support distribution utility decisions by identifying the benefits and impacts of adding DERs to specific locations on the grid
  • Modeling the economics of novel applications of photovoltaics (PV), such as pairing it with electric vehicle (EV) charging at workplaces or with storage for peak demand reduction or black start services
  • Working with stakeholders to prioritize energy goals and design pilot projects that demonstrate novel, cost-effective solar and DER solutions
  • Assessing the resiliency value of DERs and other value streams.

In addition to team-level efforts, the Innovation Network is producing products and tools to address questions identified by multiple teams, including:

  • Understanding the potential impact of EVs on electricity demand
  • Identifying considerations for the structure of new solar tariffs and programs
  • Developing local plans for moving from solar energy goals to implementation
  • Analyzing and compensating locational value of solar to provide grid and resiliency benefits.

Participating Teams

The nine teams participating in the first round of the Solar Energy Innovation Network were grouped into two cohorts, based on shared challenges and goals. The stakeholder teams participating in the Innovation Network are making rapid progress toward new, multi-technology solutions such as the pairing of PV and EVs, as well as provision of grid services with PV and storage. Their ongoing projects are described below.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 DERs. 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

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

Project Description: The City of Orlando aims to deploy solar and solar-plus-storage to support energy resiliency, environmental quality, and the continued affordability of the electricity supply. The team’s efforts include 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. The team is producing insights on municipal-level solar policies and building guidelines to share with other municipalities.

States Represented: Florida

Lead Organization: City of San Diego

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

Project Description: The City of San Diego aims to deploy solar and storage to support energy resiliency, environmental quality, and affordability of the electricity supply. The team has estimated the total potential for solar deployment across the city, designed a program proposal for utilizing the total solar potential, completed detailed economic analysis of solar options on municipal facilities, conducted stakeholder workshops to explore solar compensation options, and is exploring opportunities for solar-plus-storage to improve resiliency at critical facilities.

States Represented: California

Lead Organization: Montana Renewable Energy Association

Team Members: 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 Montana team is investigating the synergies between solar generation and EV charging, including the potential opportunities and challenges related to co-locating solar energy and charging infrastructure to reduce costs and enhance co-benefits of the electrification of transportation. All of the cities participating in the program (Bozeman, Missoula, and Whitefish) have held stakeholder engagement meetings to clarify goals and strengthened their relationship with the utility through continued dialogue. The City of Missoula’s transit agency has purchased six electric buses and conducted analysis to understand specific options for locating charging infrastructure with solar generation. The team is writing a report to share the broader lessons learned with other communities across Montana and the United States.

States Represented: Montana

Lead Organization: Utah Clean Energy

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

Project Description: The Utah team is conducting scenario analysis to evaluate the potential to employ demand-side measures, such as energy efficiency, solar, and storage to support city-level energy goals and complement utility-scale solar being planned by their utility. The team is also estimating the potential additional future load that may be associated with beneficial residential electrification and electric vehicle adoption in the cities. These analyses inform a regional energy planning process and city input to the utility integrated resource planning process.  

States represented: Utah

Lead organization: Kit Carson Electric Cooperative (KCEC)

Team Members: KCEC, Guzman Energy, Renewable Taos

Project Description: KCEC is currently partnering with multiple stakeholders to plan the deployment of an additional 35 megawatts of solar photovoltaics by strategically deploying smaller one-megawatt solar arrays across their service area. In coordination with NREL, the team has developed a tool to identify the benefits and impacts of solar-plus-storage at specific locations on the grid, conduct complex scenario analyses across an entire distribution system, and identify opportunities for infrastructure and operational cost savings and improved resilience. Using the model, the team is writing an operational plan for solar build-out on their system. The model will be made available to other cooperative utilities interested in deploying solar. The team will share lessons learned, including insights on the shifts needed in organizational structure, systems, and procedures that will help build the internal capacity necessary for cooperative utilities to apply the tool.

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.

The four project teams participating in this cohort are described below:

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

Team Members: NARUC, PJM Interconnection, Converge Strategies LLC

Project Description: This project is studying opportunities for solar to provide system resilience both at distribution and bulk power levels. The team members are identifying market barriers and potential pathways forward with input from key stakeholders including member utilities, relevant federal, state, and local governments, regulators, developers, solution providers, and the United States military. 

The team began by conducting a detailed review of resilience valuation methodologies being tested across the country. This will be paired with a review of regulatory approaches to encouraging DERs and opportunities for DERs to provide resiliency benefits. The team has convened three stakeholder workshops to gather diverse perspectives and map out pathways to realizing resiliency benefits from DERs. The team is also exploring a concrete case study of solar for resilience by analyzing and modeling the potential for solar-plus-storage to provide black start services for PJM. This includes assessing technical feasibility, operational challenges, and business model barriers. This research is supporting modeling feasibility for specific systems to pilot black start applications of solar and storage. The team is also producing a market and regulatory roadmap for effectively integrating resilient DERs.

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

Team Members: 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 DERs to reduce grid congestion, to avoid or defer distribution system upgrades, and to provide resiliency benefits. The team is composed of five states and the District of Columbia that are all looking at specific elements of analyzing and compensating locational value. This includes studies to evaluate compensation mechanisms, data needs to advance locational siting, potential roles of locational value in the integrated resource planning process, the economics of utilizing solar-plus-storage to manage peak demand growth, and siting for resilience benefits. Advancements and lessons learned from this project will be shared to assist other states facing similar opportunities and challenges.

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

Lead Organization: Great Plains Institute

Team Members: 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 synergies between EV charging infrastructure and distributed solar energy. The project is assessing technical applications, potential partnerships, and opportunities for local and state policies to create mutually beneficial co-deployment of solar and EVs in Minnesota. The Minnesota team used both stakeholder engagement and economic analysis to examine market potential and barriers to deployment. The team convened a broad suite of stakeholders in a series of workshops, interviews, and surveys to assess value propositions, foster partnerships, and evaluate potential solar plus EV charging use cases. Technoeconomic analysis of priority use cases, such as workplace charging, municipal fleet charging, or public transit electrification, complemented the stakeholder input. Pilot projects are being pursued to stress test EV and solar synergies and ultimately inform the development of a roadmap for cost-effective solar and EV co-deployment while supporting grid reliability. The roadmap will be a valuable tool for other states and cities that are preparing for growth in EVs and solar, particularly in contexts with low penetrations of either or both.

States Represented: Minnesota

Lead Organization: Center for Climate Protection

Team Members: Center for Climate Protection, TerraVerde Energy LLC, Lancaster Choice Energy, Peninsula Clean Energy

Project Description: This project is developing tools and methodologies for evaluate the opportunities and trade-ofs across various rate structures for integrated DER deployment. Design decisions were based on a multi-month stakeholder input process that included a number of community choice aggregations, solutions providers, and regulatory policy and rate design experts, among others. The rate design tool will be technology-agnostic (e.g., distributed solar PV, energy efficiency, energy storage, electric vehicles, and demand response technologies) and load-serving entities (LSEs) can readily adopt and customize to support their community goals while maintaining affordability.

The tool will provide a transparent methodology for valuing the costs and benefits of DER installations that can also be adapted and customized to conditions in LSE territories. The tool is being piloted virtually with community choice aggregations partner to evaluate impacts of proposed rate designs on prospective solar and storage projects, but the methodologies applied to DER cost and benefit analysis and the rate structure concepts the tool analyzes will support any LSE.

States Represented: California

Peer Network

The Peer Network branch of the Innovation Network is designed to enhance the replicability of innovative solutions through tailored analytical support and peer exchange. Leveraging experience and lessons learned across the cohorts, Peer Network teams receive assistance in adapting research, analytical pathways, and innovative approaches to their individual contexts.

Six Peer Network teams were selected to receive targeted assistance in the first round of the Innovation Network.

Lead Organization: University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Stakeholders: REDLab, State of Hawaii Division of Consumer Advocacy

Relevant Efforts: The long-term objective of this team 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 team 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

Relevant Efforts: 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, CLEER, Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE)

Relevant Efforts: The Western Colorado Rural Clean Energy Corridor initiative is a collaborative team spanning three counties in western Colorado. The team aims to create and implement a shared roadmap to meet the region's renewable energy goals while maximizing resilience and local economic diversification. 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, Humboldt County Planning and Building Permitting Department, Schatz Energy Research Center, The Energy Authority

Relevant Efforts: 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. The RCEA team is in the process of developing a 2.1 megawatt solar PV / 2 megawatt (8 megawatt-hour) battery storage microgrid system at the local airport.  In addition to technical considerations, the RCEA team is also exploring a range of market and transactional questions related to microgrid development, including how costs and benefits will be allocated across customers, potential resilience value streams, and which energy markets to participate in.

Geographic Area Represented: Humboldt County, California

Lead Organization: Extensible Energy

Stakeholders: Extensible Energy

Relevant Efforts: 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 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

Relevant Efforts: 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 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

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 Innovation Network by conducting real-world research that can be applied in their community or region. Teams were grouped into two cohorts that each focus on different aspects of new and emerging challenges related growing levels of renewable energy on the grid and the need for increasing grid flexibility and resiliency while maintaining affordability.

Over the course of 12 to 18 months, teams receive direct funding, analytical support from NREL and other expert partners, and facilitation support. Through coordinated engagement at four multi-day working sessions, teams work together to identify local and regional impacts, formulate and test innovations, and validate new models.

Sustained interaction with other teams is an invaluable for ensuring solutions benefit from lessons learned elsewhere and are devised in ways that maximize replicability. Teams clearly benefit from peer exchanges with other teams in their cohort, but there has also been significant interest between teams across the cohorts, highlighting the success of the program’s network approach.

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

Contact

Please direct questions to the program administrator at SEIN@nrel.gov.

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.