PV Interconnection Issues: Are You the 15%?

Oct. 29, 2014 by Sherry Stout

According to projections from Green Tech Media, a new distributed photovoltaic (PV) system will be installed in the United States roughly every 80 seconds by the year 2016, making interconnection-related concerns and innovations a top priority. A streamlined interconnection process is needed to keep pace with this expected growth in demand for solar energy systems. Ultimately, both utilities and consumers can benefit from reduced solar project timeframes and costs.

Multiple stakeholders, including utilities, customers, solar developers, municipalities, and regulatory agencies, are involved in distributed PV interconnection. The process encompasses multiple steps from the time when a new system application is submitted to the utility to when final authorization to energize the PV asset is received. For more details on the process, see the summary graphic below.

Flow chart showing steps associated with the PV interconnection process, including application review and approval, PV construction, building inspection, and permission to operate.

Source: Ardani et al (forthcoming)

The distributed interconnection process is not this straight forward in practice. Rather, PV developers encounter a wide variety of interconnection fees and requirements among the more than 190 investor-owned utilities, 2,000 publically owned utilities, and 870 cooperatives operating in the United States. A recent Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) report discusses results from utilities surveyed about interconnection process challenges. The report states that, "only 15 percent of utilities have mastered the art of the interconnection process while 85 percent have considerable room for improvement."

NREL is facilitating the Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative (DGIC) to foster knowledge and information exchange on distributed PV interconnection practices, research, and innovation. The collaborative works to identify and overcome data and informational gaps, address process and technical challenges, and enable informed decision-making and planning for increased demand for grid-connected, distributed PV resources.

In the past year, the DGIC's activities largely focused on gathering data to better understand interconnection completion timelines, documenting stakeholders’ priority challenges related to distributed PV interconnection, and identifying innovative cost and time savings measures. As a result, the collaborative successfully collected project completion time frame data for more than 30,000 PV systems and hosted 10 webinar-meetings focused on utility case studies and interconnection practices.

The DGIC is supported by SEPA, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), and the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative. Stakeholders who are interested in becoming a member of the DGIC can contact Kristen Ardani. Those who have questions about how to resolve solar market barriers related to interconnection are encouraged to email the Solar Technical Assistance Team (STAT). Together, we hope to move the 15% into the majority.

Tags: Utilities,Policy and Financing