Investor-Owned Utility of the Year: Pepco, an Exelon company
Public Power Utility of the Year: Village of Minster, Ohio
Electric Cooperative of the Year: Green Power EMC
Innovative Partner of the Year: Clean Energy Collective
Solar Champion: Dora Nakafuji, Director of Renewable Energy Planning at Hawaiian Electric Company
Now in their eighth year, the awards recognize electric utilities, their industry partners and individuals for creating programs embodying the innovation and collaboration that drive smart utility solar growth and expand consumer access to distributed energy technologies.
Based in Washington, D.C., Pepco is being recognized for its research and development of automated tools to increase the amount of solar it can connect to its distribution system and to streamline the interconnection process for customers and installers. With 26,000 solar systems online, 10,000 systems expected to power up in the near future, and approximately 2,000 residential interconnection applications coming in monthly, the utility and its technology partners have been testing new software applications and databases aimed at mapping and modeling solar. This work will allow Pepco to determine how much solar can be safely installed on specific circuits -- what the industry calls “hosting capacity” -- and when upgrades are needed to allow more solar to be added to those lines. Funded by the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative, the research and tools developed will be publicly available. In addition, by automating its interconnection process, the utility has been able to cut some solar system approvals to as little as five days.
“To continue increasing the amount of solar-generated electricity that is fed into the grid, it is crucial that tools to increase hosting capacity and grid management of solar be researched and developed,” said veteran Solar Power Players Awards judge Paula Mints, Chief Market Research Analyst for SPV Market Research. “This Department of Energy Sunshot program work will be useful nationwide in addressing the need to manage the grid and energy mix of our near future.”
Located north of Dayton and with a population of 2,850, the Village of Minster, Ohio may appear an unlikely innovator, but earlier this year, it brought a solar-plus-storage project online, with 4.2 megawatts (MW) of solar, 7 MW of storage and four different revenue streams. Minster is the first public power authority to develop a project of this kind, and the village is already hosting visits from other towns and cities interested in studying its model. The project was initially planned as a standalone solar plant, but added storage following Ohio’s decision to put its renewable energy mandate on hold, a move that undercut the project’s original funding plan. Project partners include developer American Renewable Energy; S&C Electric, which provided the storage system; and Half Moon Ventures, which secured private financing.
“The Village of Minster has overcome government and market barriers to establish complex relationships with stakeholders to make this project economically feasible for its customers,” said awards judge Paul Belnick, Vice President of Integrated Grid at New York Power Authority, which was SEPA’s 2015 Public Power Utility of the Year. “By adding the storage to solar, Minster has been able to increase the value of the solar array to its customers through revenue stacking...and demonstrate its forward-thinking leadership.”
Green Power EMC is being recognized for helping 38 electric cooperatives across Georgia to implement a comprehensive solar strategy, upping these utilities’ solar capacity under development from 7.5 megawatts (MW) to 240 MW. By banding together, the co-ops were able to take advantage of economies of scale, resulting in very low-cost project power purchase agreements. Green Power EMC also designed a community solar-type program now providing clean power and bill credits to 2,500 customers at seven co-ops across the state, with more co-ops expected to join the program by the end of the year. It has also provided solar training for more than 1,500 utility staff in the state.
“This submission had a comprehensive, holistic view of solar. It developed internal expertise and training, a successful community solar program, and project development,” said judge Alison Kling, Senior Specialist, Distributed Generation at Con Edison of New York, which was last year’s Investor-Owned Utility of the Year. “The coordination of so many co-ops was very impressive. This had a larger scale of actually getting solar done and in the ground, and offers customers a lot of flexibility in how they approach solar.”
Colorado-based Clean Energy Collective (CEC) is being recognized for its deployment of a community solar development platform and toolkit that provide utilities with a turnkey option for starting community solar programs. What has made this approach so effective is its particular alignment with utility business models. CEC’s turnkey program provides a solar option to all of its utility partners’ customers while preserving the utilities’ direct, grid-tied relationship with these consumers. To date, CEC has worked with 27 utility partners in 12 states, with more than 100 community solar projects built or under development, totaling more than 177 MW of solar capacity.
“Replicability is the key issue here,” said John Frick, Vice President of Government Relations at the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, SEPA’s 2015 Electric Cooperative of the Year. “The difficulty of making a complex arrangement like community solar turnkey for so many is quite a feat and will surely be transformative throughout the industry.”
Dora Nakafuji is being recognized for her leadership in developing and deploying data-driven tools that Hawaiian Electric is now using to maintain grid reliability as it continues to integrate high levels of solar onto the grid, moving toward the state’s goal of a power system run 100 percent on renewables by 2045. In her six years at Hawaiian Electric, Nakafuji has leveraged more than $30 million of grant funds and more than 40 industry partners to develop unique tools for forecasting solar and wind output on the islands, mapping their specific locational values and supporting their integration on the grid. She and the team she leads are also known for a highly collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach to their work.
“Dora has consistently been at the forefront of Hawaiian Electric’s renewable and solar integration programs, and has been a driving force for finding technical solutions for Hawaii’s aggressive renewable target,” said SEPA’s 2015 Solar Champion Carmine Tilghman, Senior Director of Energy Supply at Tucson Electric Power and one of this year’s judges. “Having had the pleasure of meeting and working with her through technical groups, I can attest to Dora’s leadership, innovative vision and passion for her work.”