Going solar should be speedy

Improving the interconnection process benefits utilities, customers, and the grid.

If you’ve gone solar, you know firsthand how exciting it can be when you start to save money on your utility bills. It can be equally frustrating to have to wait to get those benefits. The final step in the process of installation – interconnection to the grid – varies depending on utility policies and capabilities. The good news: for some customers, the wait time may be just a day before they can start saving money on their utility bills. The bad news: some customers have to wait as long as 120 days, according to a new report from EQ Research. The report reveals that installers working in 34 utility districts found that permission to operate – the industry term for interconnection to the grid — waiting times increased 68% from 2013 to 2014.

Rooftop solar’s increasing popularity has no doubt strained the interconnection departments of utilities around the country. But we have ways to speed up the interconnection process and smooth the transition to a grid with many distributed rooftop solar panels. SolarCity’s Grid Engineering department, a cross-functional organization focused on designing a 21st century grid that leverages the benefits of distributed energy resources, recently released a white paper on this topic, titled Integrated Distribution Planning. The paper examines how we can better transition to a distributed energy future while maintaining a safe and reliable grid. The team’s recommendations range from straightforward improvements to existing interconnection processes, like moving the interconnection application process online, to a vision for a more holistic, long-term distribution planning framework that leverages the increasing adoption of distributed energy resources to benefit the grid and its customers. These improvements would provide the transparency and access to grid data that is critical for customers to know where solar would best serve grid needs.

SolarCity’s efforts in designing a grid for the 21st century aren’t just an academic exercise. SolarCity has already worked with utilities to implement some of these best practices. We’ve also partnered with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) to evaluate some of the utility’s technical concerns about increasing penetration of PV. This partnership proved through technical research and testing that the grid could handle more than twice as much solar PV as previously thought. And as we’ve stated in the past, we have an open invitation to any utility wanting to partner to eliminate the barriers to a cleaner, more affordable and resilient grid. To learn more about our efforts to tackle some of the hardest engineering, technical and economic challenges of designing a grid for the future, visit our Grid Engineering team’s most recent white papers and technical briefs at solarcity.com/gridx.

At the end of the day, customers are the ones who suffer the most from interconnection delays. Utilities and solar energy companies serve those same customers, so we’ll need to work together to find better ways to give the customer what they want.

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