Solar Technical Assistance Team Profile: Emerson Reiter

Feb. 20, 2015 by Sherry Stout

Emerson Reiter, a project leader with NREL’s Market Partnerships & Tools group in the lab’s Integrated Applications Center, answers seven questions about his work.

What are your primary research interests?
Given my background, my primary research interests are in solar integration challenges in the utility environment: impacts on utility business models; interactions between installers, customers, and utilities; and implications of higher solar penetration for the operation of wholesale electricity markets.

What did you do prior to joining NREL?
Before coming to NREL, I was an analyst at Pacific Gas & Electric in San Francisco. I was part of the wholesale electricity markets group, where my job was to monitor and analyze the CAISO’s day-ahead and real-time markets and to comment on proposed market design changes. In addition, I monitored allowance prices and trading in the California greenhouse gas cap-and-trade market from its launch in November 2012 and contributed to our comments on potential regulatory changes. Before that, I did a brief stint as a consultant at Arup, where I worked on the climate action strategy for the San Francisco Dept. of the Environment.

What has been your favorite project since coming to NREL?
So far, I’ve really enjoyed the research I’ve been doing on reporting standards for the distributed generation interconnection process. It may seem like an arcane topic, but every single DG solar system has to go through this process, so it’s an opportunity to affect the entire industry. I’m also a data guy who loves explaining things through pictures and charts, so the idea of getting more states on board to track and publish utility interconnection performance data could yield some great insights.

What is the most interesting issue in solar for you right now?
To me, the most interesting issue in solar right now is the impact on electricity rate design throughout the country. Distributed solar customers, especially those who use net energy metering, are no longer just noise in the load profile and are starting to have an impact on load shape, load quantity, and revenue for the utility companies. In response, a lot of utility companies are jumping up with their strategies for addressing potential revenue impacts: Fixed charges! Solar fees! Minimum bill! I just don’t think anyone has come out with a rate proposal that make sense no matter the level of DG penetration (0% to 100%). That rate design solution is the big question for me going forward.

What opportunities do you see for solar in 2015?
Solar has a lot of opportunity this year to push into new state markets. Just in the last couple months, we’ve seen major momentum in South Carolina and Florida – markets with good solar resources yet minimal installed capacity. I think these have the potential to follow Georgia’s example from 2014 as fast-growing markets in the Southeast. I also think there’s a lot of interesting corporate trends that are going to continue. I think there will be more big, interesting acquisitions like SunEdison buying First Wind and SolarCity acquiring Silevo. There may also continue to be consolidation of market share in the DG installer space and we’ll see if the yieldco trend of last year sparks any new finance models in the industry.

What challenges do you see for the solar industry in 2015?
My impression is that 2015 is sort of the calm before the storm, and the big challenge for the industry is to not waste this opportunity. My sense is that the last few years have been a time of incredible expansion with new possibilities and some experimentation. I think firms in both the DG and utility-scale space will need to rein things in a bit and push costs as low as possible. That way, there’s not a huge shock to the industry when the anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese modules hit in full force, or if the investment tax credit (ITC) expires in 2016, and as net metering caps start to be reached. The solar value proposition still needs to be there.

What are your non-work interests/activities?
As a complete Colorado novice, I’ve been trying to get outside for as many different reasons as possible. My go-to activities are snowboarding and rock climbing, but in the three months I’ve been here I’ve also snowshoed for the first time, gotten my Level I AIARE avalanche certification and learned to ice climb at the Ouray Ice Festival. I’m looking forward to what the next few seasons will bring!