Californian Solar And Storage Workers Gather At State Capitol

By Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry Magazine

Approximately 150 solar and energy storage workers from 80 businesses across the state converged on the California state capitol on Tuesday, Aug. 29, to meet with their legislative representatives and urge continued support of local solar and energy storage policies. Organized by the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA), the event was the 4th Annual Worker Day. The clean energy workers had a clear message: “Keep local solar and storage growing in California.”

“Our jobs require strong policies to ensure access to local solar and storage for all California consumers,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of CALSEIA. “Local solar and energy storage businesses bring many benefits to the state including jobs that can’t be outsourced and an affordable and reliable pathway to 100 percent clean energy.”

The workers came to the capitol to educate legislators about the different forms of local solar and energy storage technologies including solar photovoltaic systems, solar thermal systems, and grid-tied batteries that help keep the sun shining at night. CALSEIA also honored California Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, with the 2017 Legislator of the Year Award for her work to promote local solar and storage.

Specific bills supported by the association included:

  • A.B.797 (Irwin) – to continue consumer incentives for solar thermal (hot water) systems that reduce natural gas use.
  • A.B.1414 (Friedman) – to extend and expand existing cap on permit fees for local solar systems.
  • S.B.700 (Wiener) – to create a multi-year consumer rebate program for energy storage. The bill stalled in July under opposition and will be taken back up in Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee again in 2018. CALSEIA notes an earlier backed bill, A.B.1030 (Ting), also faced opposition earlier in the year and was stopped by the same committee.

“I got up at 3:30 this morning to make sure my voice would be heard,” said Ricardo Armendarez, sales manager and system designer for AltSys Solar Inc., a Central Valley contractor based in Tulare, Calif. “I have come to believe running a business is only half of the work needed to create a successful industry. Engaging with our state legislators and making sure they understand the significance of their policy decisions is critical to the continued growth and maintenance of our businesses and the jobs we create.”

CALSEIA says the nearly 80 businesses that participated in the day’s event came from all over California from San Diego to Redding. These businesses and 150 workers are a diverse cross-section of the 100,000 jobs that solar and storage have created across California, according to the group.


Storage saves

Sustaining the market: As the leading solar state in America, California’s behind-the-meter solar markets are seeing challenges as they explore new terrain. CALSEIA’s Bernadette Del Chiaro explains how the industry is navigating these changes, and what to expect in the future.



California’s residential solar market obviously suffered during Q1. Can you talk about what you are seeing in Q2 and beyond in the residential sector, and what this says about the viability of the market under Net Metering 2.0?

Bernadette Del Chiaro: We definitely saw in Q1 – and it is looking like in Q2 as well – a slowdown in the residential market in California. At the same time as that, we saw an uptick in the C&I market. I think there are a couple of things happening, but ultimately, to answer your question directly: Distributed solar is absolutely viable under Net Metering 2.0, but we need to start pairing storage with every single solar system, and we need the policies in place to make that possible.

Otherwise we are concerned that the viability of the market under Net Metering (NEM) 3.0 isn’t going to be there. NEM 3.0 is going to be upon us before we know it, and it is critical that we get storage deployed. CALSEIA has prioritized spending the bulk of our time this year working on creating incentives to make storage available and affordable to all customers. Right now our storage market is really limited to one segment within the C&I sector, and completely dependent upon incentives. And that’s not sustainable. That’s just like how PV was 12 years ago before the California Solar Initiative.

Let me also just say that there are a variety of factors on the slowdown. I think NEM 2.0 had its effect. I think rate changes for residential – those had their effect – and those started as you remember back in 2015. But the rain was legitimately a factor: We had twice as many rainy days in the winter of 2017 as there were in 2016. When you have that many rainy days, it really does cut down on your ability to go out and install. And more importantly, it cuts down on your thought process about getting solar. When it is cloudy and rainy and cold, people don’t pick up the phone.

The third factor is that our sales folks had for years these built-in deadlines to sell against. One of them was expiration of the ITC, expiration of NEM 2.0 being the other. It was easier to sell a system when you had this built-in urgency. Because the residential solar market isn’t an absolute necessity for the consumer, you need built-in urgency to get people to jump. Without that, it makes it harder.

I think that played another role, and I think we will be able to start to sort that out. People will be able to figure out how to motivate consumers to jump and make the purchase or sign the contract within a more stable policy environment.

To get away from residential for a moment, the C&I market in California has grown, despite the fact that C&I installations are also under Net Metering 2.0. So what is going on here?

The C&I market is different because you have bigger projects – longer time lines. Going back to that previous thing about deadlines driving sales – that is a little bit less of a factor. You are going to spend six months to a year having a conversation with your customer anyway, so these annual deadlines don’t play as big of a role in motivating them to act.

The other is that they are a little more motivated by demand charges, and they have been on time-of-use rates (TOU) already. The economics of C&I solar installations are really strong – they’ve always been strong. The commercial market has just not suffered those same blows.

I think a residential homeowner hears in the press that solar is under attack and hears about these changes in net metering and thinks, “I’ll wait a while.” A C&I decision maker is going to be a little less influenced by daily media, and is going to be more influenced by the one-on-one conversation and thinking about the bottom line.

That being said, even though the C&I sector has been under time-of-use already, the changes to TOU rates that are unknown right now are going to have a big impact on the C&I market – and already are. I think we are going to be seeing some dips in the latter half of this year. It’s just a delayed response but for different reasons.

That’s the next thing that I want to talk with you about. Obviously the move to TOU rates for residential customers is a huge component of NM 2.0. Another issue is that they are changing. Can you talk about what the current state is of the negotiations over TOU rates, and what this looks like for the market?

TOU is critical. We have been working a lot on this issue. We are basically going to see a massive shift towards evening peak pricing. And everyone who has a solar system is going to move in that direction.

There is some grandfathering for existing customers, but the California regulators are eager to move as many people as they can in that direction.

What remains to be seen is what the differential is, and the price differential between peak and non-peak, and how dramatic in the early stages that is. And we hope that regulators understand that this needs to be a gentle transition.

But going back to C&I, the uncertainty there about what those rates are going to be is causing problems. And even with a solar paired with storage project it is holding people up from making decisions right now.

The California solar industry doesn’t have a problem with TOU rates per se. The key is having the transition be smooth and gentle, and making sure that as we let our foot off of one pedal, we are pushing down on storage. That is the key to giving consumers a tool to manage under a true TOU pricing structure.

If the California regulators and policymakers don’t give consumers that tool, there is going to be a major backlash from consumers when they realize that they are paying three times the price when they get home, and find that they have no way to truly lower their energy usage.

California has been interesting as a place where high levels of renewable energy have been deployed and the grid operator has to grapple with these high levels. We are already seeing curtailment and negative prices. At what point do these integration issues begin to affect the distributed solar market?

It’s already hitting the distributed generation (DG) market. Embedded in NEM 2.0 is the challenge of all of the large-scale solar, and what impact that is having on the grid, and the value of behind-the-meter. That is already a natural tension there, and already impacting the value of DG in Public Utility Commission (PUC) proceedings and deliberations on this, and it will be a factor in NEM 3.0.

At the end of the day, if we get storage deployed in a way in which everyone in the marketplace can participate with storage, and we continue on our path to electrify the transportation sector, and we really bring the grid into the 21st century and truly embrace the internet of things, there is more than enough need for all forms of renewable energy. But it all hinges so much on getting storage right.


Solar Groups Denounce California Regulator’s Rate Case Decision

By Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry

On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted unanimously to approve a decision in San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) general rate case after revising the proposed decision earlier this month. The California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) both criticized the decision as unsupported by the facts in the case, inconsistent with the state’s policies, and detrimental to solar customers.

As the solar groups explain, the vote is the first in a series of changes to time-of-use (TOU) rates set to take place statewide over the next two years. Under TOU, rates are higher at periods of peak demand and lower off-peak. Experience in California and elsewhere has shown that customers can understand TOU rates and can in ways the benefit the grid, such as by waiting to run the dishwasher until the off-peak period. The solar groups say these rates are important for sending customers accurate incentives to reduce energy when the grid is most strained, and TOU rates also impact the economics of customers’ rooftop solar systems.

According to the solar groups, utilities in California are proposing to move the highest-priced “peak” periods into the evening (4-9 p.m. or 5-10 p.m.) from today’s afternoon (e.g., noon-6 p.m.) peak. Some utility proposals would create super off-peak rates in the middle of the day in spring months, ostensibly to help manage spring hydro runoff and abundant solar production. However, the groups say lower rates in the daytime would reduce the relative benefit of going solar.

The groups say the San Diego decision adopts a 4-9 p.m. on peak for vague “policy reasons” despite the judge in the case originally proposing an earlier period based on the commission’s TOU methodology, which was established this January.

“The commission spent more than a year examining how to develop time-of-use rates, for the very purpose of ensuring that this once-in-a-generation change to new periods was based on facts,” says Brandon Smithwood, director of California state affairs at SEIA. “Earlier time periods would also help reduce consumption during hours of declining solar generation when the California system operator (CAISO) needs to ramp up gas plants to meet energy needs.”

Solar parties expect a more thorough analysis of data in the forthcoming TOU decisions Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric. According to the solar groups, the commission may have to move SDG&E’s TOU periods earlier in the day once it follows the methodology in its next rate case when the utility’s application must take all of the required data into account. The next general rate case for SDG&E will be filed next year and decided less than three years from now.

“The commission has decided not to apply its new TOU methodology in this rate case,” says Brad Heavner, policy director for CALSEIA. “It is shocking that the commission purposefully avoided considering data that was solidly on the record.”

According to the groups, the decision dampens a market already depressed by uncertainty about the changing TOU periods. A decision earlier this year set a deadline of July 31 for most new solar projects to connect under the old TOU periods. Projects under development and new project development have slowed dramatically. Both CALSEIA and SEIA say they are seeking a change to the “grandfathering” rules so that project development can continue as rate cases are decided. The decision extends the deadline for schools to August 2018.


California regulators call for later peak under SDG&E time of use rates

A week before a key ruling and with little justification, CPUC has altered a proposed decision on TOU timing. If approved this will be bad for SDG&E customers who adopt solar and could set a precedent for TOU rate cases at California’s other utilities.

By Christian Roselund, PV Magazine

As a component of modernizing the electric grid, time-of-use rates can be an important way to set price signals to help shift both customer behavior and to incentivize generation that aligns with system needs. However, in areas with high penetrations of solar such rates undermine PV system economics, and erratic behavior by regulators in setting such rates can be problematic.

So when the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) modified a proposed decision to adjust the daily schedule for such rates for San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) shortly before a key vote, the response by the solar industry was swift.

Both California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) and Vote Solar have expressed criticism of the move, which would move the peak period from 4 to 9 PM, instead of 3 to 9 PM as the commission stated in April, with Vote Solar calling it a “regulatory about-face” that “undermines California’s clean energy and climate leadership”.

Both organizations note a lack of justification for the change in timing. In the modified decision, CPUC notes that the the record can support either a 3 PM or 4 PM start to the on-peak period, but notes that for un-named “policy reasons” it is choosing 4 PM.

And while CPUC claims that a shorter peak period is easier for customers to navigate, it is not showing as much concern for the degree of continuity. For 30 years, SDG&E’s peak period has been 11 AM to 6 PM, and by moving the start of the on-peak period from 3 to 4 PM, CPUC is making the shift more dramatic than before.

This is exactly the sort of thing that the solar industry has warned against. In a recent interview with pv magazine, CALSEIA Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro has expressed that more gentle transitions are in the best interests of both the solar market and consumers.

However, it is in line with the interests of utilities, who have continually pushed for later on-peak periods. CALSEIA warns that this could have effects beyond the San Diego solar market in cases for California’s two other investor-owned utilities, who are setting mandatory TOU rates for residential customers who own PV systems under net metering 2.0.

“This is precedent-setting for the other rate cases,” warns CALSEIA Senior Policy Advisor Kelly Knutsen.

This proposed decision is not the final word, and as such the solar industry will be pushing back against this proposed decision. However there is not much time, as a ruling is expected on this case August 10.