Planning Methods Could Help Utilities Bring Distributed Energy To The Grid

Credit does not necessarily go to utilities for the expanding role of green power. Some states, including Arizona and Oklahoma, have made it less cost-effective for homeowners to install their own solar panels.

Green power proponents argue that these kinds of policies are a step backward. A recent study makes a strong case for new methods.

Solar provider SolarCity’s white paper, “Integrated Distribution Planning,” outlines several strategies utilities can employ to encourage and take advantage of the growing resource of nontraditional power generation.

The paper defines integrated distribution planning as a “holistic approach” to meeting the grid’s distribution needs, and it expands customer choice and unlocks the benefits of distributed-energy resources. In addition to renewable sources, distributed-energy resources include energy efficiency, demand-response programs, advanced inverters, energy storage and electric vehicles.

The paper first recommends that utilities streamline the interconnection process. By simplifying the four critical steps—application, construction, inspection and permission to operate—utilities will make it much easier for distributed generation to come online and contribute to the grid.

Second, the paper encourages utilities to consider the growth in distributed-energy resources in their long-range forecast of needs, something they currently don’t do. It recommends that utilities consider the procurement of distributed-energy resources as a viable alternative to traditional “steel in the ground” infrastructure in meeting the grid’s needs.

The paper also suggests that utilities adopt an approach to procurement that it refers to as “distribution loading order.” This approach weights procurement options by cost-effectiveness, placing low-cost options, such as distributed energy, ahead of more costly investments in conventional infrastructure when considering procurement options. Finally, the paper asserts that utilities, which possess most of the existing grid data, must commit to making that data transparent and available to encourage greater innovation.

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