- SolarCity announced on Thursday that it is entering into a cooperative research agreement with the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The deal includes a collaboration with the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) to study solutions for integrating high penetrations of distributed solar onto the grid.
- Testing is taking place at DOE's Energy Systems Integration Facility and covers the "dynamic of inverter-based assets on a grid system, voltage regulation, and bi-directional power flows," according to a SolarCity press release.
- HECO says preliminary results of testing were promising enough to allow the utility to develop and announce a recent plan to approve customers waiting to interconnect solar systems in neighborhoods that already have high solar penetrations.
The partnership between SolarCity, the nation's largest residential solar installer, and HECO could point to a new model of cooperation between solar companies and utilities as they attempt to cope with higher penetrations of distributed resources.
“We know how important the option of solar is for our customers. Solving these issues requires that everyone—utilities, the solar industry and other leading technical experts like NREL—work together. That’s what this work is all about,” said Colton Ching, Hawaiian Electric vice president for energy delivery, in a press release.
The testing is especially important for HECO, which is working to manage a grid with nearly 20% penetration of distributed generation, the highest in the nation. In past months, the utility reported many of its circuits with high solar penetration overloaded during peak demand hours.
The difficulties in ensuring grid stability led HECO to cut back on solar interconnections, sparking dicontent with Hawaiian installers as the interconnection queue backed up to more than 5,000. Eventually, a 50% drop in interconnection permits led some installers to flee Hawaii, taking up to 3,000 jobs with them, according to some estimates.
But earlier this month, HECO announced a new plan to clear the interconnection backlog, one that this announcement makes clear was prompted by preliminary results from the research partnership with SolarCity and NREL. SolarCity officials say that sort of breakthrough is the goal of the partnership, and HECO will need more of them to comply with Hawaii's plans to get 67% of its energy from renewable resources by 2030.
“SolarCity is committed to ensuring that solar is an asset to grid operators, and this partnership will take us further towards that goal,” Peter Rive, SolarCity's co-founder and CTO, said in a press release.