Takeaways from the American Public Power Association 2014 Conference

Nov. 24, 2014 by John Nangle

The American Public Power Association (APPA) was founded in 1940 and represents 3,000 public utilities that support roughly 45 million customers. The APPA held its 2014 Customer Connections Conference in Jacksonville, Florida, during the week of October26. I was invited to attend APPA this year and talk about NREL’s activities in supporting community solar programs. Specifically, I spoke about NREL’s Community Solar Scenario Tool (CSST) that I co-developed with my colleague, Jason Coughlin.

In addition to speaking, I was able to attend many of the sessions at the conference. In the opening session, Sue Kelly, APPA President and CEO listed distributed generation community solar as one of the challenges that the APPA was helping its members meet.

Because the CSST is still in a beta form, I was particularly interested in getting feedback on its further development from the conference attendees. I also wanted to ensure that we were delivering a tool that provided actionable information to the decisions makers. I got good comments and questions about the CSST during my presentation and will be looking at incorporating all of them into the tool in the next version. These suggestions included adding the net present value (NPV) for the utility for installing a community solar project and adding a separate list of capital items for the project (e.g. panels, inverter, and racking).

One of the topics of discussion was about the value community solar presents both to customers and to the utility. This is something that I think we can answer, at least in part, with the CSST. Other interesting topics that were discussed included whether or not private investment could pay for low-income weatherization and receive RECs or some other form of green credits and how to create a community solar program without subsidizing customers. There was also some discussion about how larger utilities impact smaller utilities. Finally, there was good discussion on storage, including the sentiment from some public utilities that, “We [the utilities] were doing microgrids before it was cool.”

The CSST was developed through NREL’s Solar Technical Assistance Team (STAT) program. STAT supports informed policy makers and staff decisions through timely, credible and actionable analysis. The support can take the form of a quick response to an analysis question, more in-depth response requiring tailored research, and online educational resources on solar energy and the role that state and local governments play in supporting solar technologies and resources.

For additional information on the CSST tool, see our What is Community Solar Going to Cost? blog post.