DOE commits $25M as industry marks millionth installation

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Department of Energy announced $25 million yesterday to accelerate the integration of solar power into the grid as industry supporters launched a campaign to celebrate the millionth U.S. solar installation.

The DOE money will be used to support 10 or 15 technology “solutions,” such as sensors and software, that can be field-tested by utilities to integrate, store and deploy solar power on the grid. The goal of the SunShot Initiative program is to tackle an ongoing challenge of integrating distributed generation sources like rooftop panels while balancing that power with traditional sources like coal or natural gas, according to the agency.

Cory Honeyman, a senior solar analyst at GTM Research, said new types of software can help manage the grid in the case of a power glut on a sunny day, for example.

“Hardware and software solutions will help utilities manage solar and other distributed energy sources on the grid and will be data-driven, easily scaled up from prototypes and capable of real-time monitoring and control,” the department said. It noted that installed solar power has increased by 23 times since 2008, reaching the 1 millionth installation this month.

The funding announcement came as the Solar Energy Industries Association announced a social media campaign to highlight the 1 million figure — a threshold 40 years in the making. The association cited projections that another million solar installations could come online by 2018.

The #MillionSolarStrong campaign was tied to a digital “thunderclap” where more than 76 million people, including President Obama, pledged their support for solar power in unison online, as supporters held a slew of on-the-ground events across the country.

“We are really at that inflection where solar starts to take off,” said Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, at a solar installation event in Washington, D.C., today. Resch recently announced he would be leaving the association at the end of the month (Greenwire, April 15).

The association also released a report from George Washington University’s Solar Institute showing that solar installation costs dropped 70 percent in the last decade, while solar jobs grew more than 123 percent in five years. The 1 million installations generate enough electricity for the entire state of Pennsylvania, according to the report.

Honeyman said the millionth installation is the latest statistic highlighting solar’s growth but is more indicative of the growth in residential generation. The growth in capacity — driven partly by utility-scale solar — is the other side of the coin, he said.

A milestone that arguably “was just as impressive as a milestone … was last year was the first year that annual capacity additions for solar outpaced natural gas additions,” Honeyman said.

With the recent extension of federal tax credits for solar, he agreed with SEIA’s projections of another million installations coming online in the next two years or so, despite pushback against net metering in states like Nevada. California is driving much of the installation growth, and should help counter shifts in states like Arizona and Colorado, where some rebates are being rolled back, according to Honeyman.