New guide shows strategies for pairing community solar with storage

community solar

The Community Solar Value Project (CSVP), an effort co-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, has released a guide that provides practical answers to questions about why and how to use energy storage in combination with community-scale solar developments. Solar Plus Storage Companion Measures for High-Value Community Solar: A Guide for Utility Program Planners is useful to utility planners, resource procurement specialists, solar program managers, marketing program managers, non-utility vendors and policy makers, who wish to understand current and emerging storage opportunities and measures on both sides of the customer meter. The Guide was introduced this week, at the annual meeting of the Peak Load Management Alliance, in Boston.

The guide is a response to soaring interest in storage as a way to more fully utilize rising penetrations of variable renewable energy resources. According to GTM Research, the market for batteries alone is set to grow 11 times over between 2016 and 2022—to about 2.5 GW. Increasingly, utilities are running storage pilot projects, and some of them are finding that a varied approach, for example, using utility-side batteries, plus customer-side batteries or thermal storage, can expand their storage capabilities cost effectively. Interest in storage is rising as a customer option, too, in response to time-of-use rates, high demand charges and interest in customer-side resilience.

The CSVP sees storage-enhanced community solar as a useful starting point to utility and customer interests around both solar and storage together, and to increase overall project value. The Guide begins with an overview of broadly defined storage technologies, from pumped hydro and flywheels to batteries, thermal storage, and more. Then it presents a five-step decision process to help utilities match technology choices to the value streams that they would find most available and economical. It also guides utilities to consider the storage decision from the customer’s viewpoint, to assure that any customer-side storage offer would find a ready market. A scoring methodology helps planners compare storage options, in terms of the various integration values presented.

Three takeaways from SEPA’s community solar report

The Guide takes into account detailed input from the CSVP’s utility advisory group, comprised of both public power and investor-owned utilities, as well as input from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“We found that utility-side battery storage is the obvious answer, but not the only answer, or even the right answer, depending on what integration problems the utility is trying to address,” explains John Powers, who is contract officer for the CSVP and a Guide co-author. As integration challenges increase, from minute-to-minute resource variability, to a daily mis-match between resource availability and peak load, to the economic challenges of arbitrage, utilities and customers will find ample solutions. “It’s exciting to find so many storage solutions in the toolbox—so long as you learn how to use them,” Powers says.

The Guide highlights solutions in six challenge areas that are frequently encountered by community solar program designers. Those areas include:

  • collaborative processes,
  • strategic solar design,
  • procurement,
  • target marketing,
  • pricing, and
  • solar-plus companion measures.

CSVP is led by the San Francisco-area energy consulting and analytics firm Extensible Energy, LLC, with support from Cliburn and Associates, Olivine, Inc., Navigant Consulting, and Millennium Energy. Utility participants include the Sacramento (California) Municipal Utility District (SMUD), Public Service of New Mexico, and other utilities nationwide. The project is cosponsored by SunShot, under the Solar Market Pathways program of the U.S. Department of Energy.