NREL Conduit Blog

The NREL Conduit Blog discusses research relevant to state, local, and Tribal governments. Contributing authors provide posts related to events, policy analysis, and decision support outcomes to inform the market in a credible and timely fashion.

The Solar Energy Trifecta: Solar + Storage + Net Metering

Feb. 12, 2018 by Benjamin Mow

Pairing solar-plus-storage with net metering has received minimal policy attention to-date because energy storage has, until recently, seen limited deployment. While this policy question may seem obscure, it is starting to pop up in other states as pairing energy storage with solar energy systems becomes more economical.

Smart Grid, Smart Inverters for a Smart Energy Future

Dec. 14, 2017 by Benjamin Mow

Smart grid infrastructure can provide the technology necessary to reliably attain high levels of solar integration in the United States’ electric grid—so what, exactly, is a smart grid?

Back to Basics: Unraveling How Distributed Generation is Compensated and Why It's Important

Nov. 28, 2017 by Alexandra Aznar

Amid the surge of recent net-metering evaluations and proposed program changes at the state level (e.g. Nevada, Utah, New York), it can be useful to step back and consider some fundamental issues at play. What is net metering?—seems like such an easy question to answer, but there is a surprising amount of diverse terminology and parlance surrounding this concept.

How Is Solar PV Performing in Hurricane-struck Locations?

Oct. 24, 2017 by Eliza Hotchkiss

The ongoing 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has already been the most active since 2005. Hurricane Harvey, classified as a Category 4 storm, made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast on August 25th with winds topping 130 mph and inundating the City of Houston with over 50 inches of rain in some areas, claiming upwards of 30 lives. Seventy percent of surrounding Harris County was covered with more than a foot of water, which flooded roughly 136,000 buildings. 

Solar-Ready Building Design: A Summary of Technical Considerations

Sept. 22, 2017 by Alison Holm

We are seeing rapid transformation in the rooftop solar market with falling costs and increased deployment, but these changes don’t mean that every new building will suddenly be outfitted with a solar energy system tomorrow, or next week, or even next year. However, there are building design options that can be leveraged today in order to take advantage of potential solar installations in the future.

Solar-ready building design, as the name suggests, refers to designing and constructing a building in a way that facilitates and optimizes the installation of a rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) system at some point after the building has been constructed. Solar-ready design can make future PV system installation more cost-effective by reducing the need for infrastructure upgrades, ensuring solar technical feasibility, and planning for PV system optimization. Solar-ready design is not a new concept—several states and municipalities, including California and Tucson, Arizona, have already started including solar-ready design mandates in their building ordinances and policies*—but it is still a relevant one, particularly in areas experiencing new urban development.

Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) Helping Communities Reach Renewable Energy Goals

Sept. 19, 2017 by Benjamin Mow

Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) is becoming a more prevalent method for local communities to source electricity. Under CCA programs, cities and local governments generate or buy electricity, usually from renewable energy sources, based on the needs of their residents.

CCAs are a hybrid between municipal utilities and standard investor-owned utilities (IOU), as depicted in Figure 1. Typically, utilities (whether investor-owned or municipal) are responsible for purchasing and distributing power, grid maintenance, and customer service. Under a CCA program, the CCA, which is administered by the local government, purchases the power, while the incumbent IOU maintains the grid and provides customer service. Because the local government is involved in some of the standard utility functions, the CCA could be considered a middle ground between an IOU and a municipal utility.

Best Practices in Zoning for Solar

April 21, 2017 by Megan Day

The price of solar energy generation has plummeted in recent years, with the average installed cost for residential solar photovoltaics (PV) dropping 43% between 2010 and 2015.[1] Most of this decline has come from falling equipment prices, with the non-equipment costs, also known as soft costs (Figure 1), remaining fairly consistent.

Local communities have a big role to play in reducing the soft costs associated with installing solar energy systems. In addition to permitting and inspection practices, local zoning ordinances can either inhibit or support distributed solar deployment within jurisdictions. Identifying and addressing barriers to solar energy installations in the local zoning code is a baseline strategy for reducing solar soft costs. Below are several factors that communities might consider in evaluating their local zoning practices to enable solar deployment.

Top five sources for solar data available at EIA

July 8, 2016 by Cara Marcy

Have you ever searched for solar energy data and didn’t know where to begin? Maps of solar power plants, installed solar capacity growth over time, projections for solar growth—this kind of information can be valuable to state policymakers trying to understand their solar landscape and craft policies to meet jurisdictional energy goals. One source policymakers can turn to for information about all energy sources, including solar, is the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Understanding Some Key Differences in Community Solar Policy across the States

June 2, 2016 by Jeffrey J. Cook

Poised to become a major contributor to future growth of the solar market by 2020, community solar programs have been established in 30 states across the country, as illustrated in the figure to the right. This blogpost addresses some of the key policy differences across the 14 states where statewide community solar programs have been enacted or otherwise implemented.

Life Cycle Assessment and Photovoltaic (PV) Recycling: Designing a More Sustainable Energy System

April 19, 2016 by Brandon Kiger

What happens to solar panels and materials after their useful life? What role does recycling play in the lifecycle of photovoltaic (PV) systems? Is it possible to design PV in a “cradle to cradle”[1] approach so that materials are designed with the purpose of being reused, upcycled, or recycled to a safe and useable material instead of ending up in landfills? From 2010 to the 2nd-quarter of 2015, the U.S. has cumulatively installed 19,884 MWdc of PV in the residential, non-residential, and utility markets[2] Given the growth in solar installations over the last five years, exploring these questions is prudent for designing a more sustainable energy system.