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Interconnecting US solar to the grid – an opaque process

New documents reveal how renewables have improved publicly available power grid data in the United States, and show how solar and wind are footing the bill for U.S. power grid upgrades.

From pv magazine USA

A pair of newly released documents reveal how the work of renewable energy developers has brought about major improvements to the accessibility and quality of publicly available power grid data. The documents also show that renewable project development has been bankrolling grid upgrades for years.

First, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) released Key Decisions for Hosting Capacity Analysis. The document is described as a tool for regulatory staff and stakeholders to identify the critical decisions that go into developing a public facing, state level, power grid Hosting Capacity Analysis (HCA) map set.

And while the analysis was released as a tool for policy makers to learn how HCA maps are deployed, it also painted a picture of the data collection work needed to compile the vast, detailed information describing the “largest machines in the world.” The broad volume of information needed by solar developers also drove the development of these tools.

IREC proposed three main options for using the HCA map tool:

  • Interconnection: The tool can be used as a general guide in solar project siting decisions by solar developers seeking to judiciously utilize their limited capital. A well-designed HCA can be used in the interconnection process to supplant standard project screens.
  • Distribution system upgrade planning: Once the local utility has built a map, they can use it to guide infrastructure upgrades.
  • Locational value: Based upon local power grid needs, the utility can use the map to generate a strategic financial tool (much like New York’s Value of Distributed Energy Resources [VDER]).

Solar developers already use these hosting capacity maps to mitigate siting challenges. If a local substation or set of power lines appear to be overloaded, developers are more likely to avoid the location.

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If we’re honest about our current power grid development reality, we will accept that it is renewables that have clearly been footing the bill for upgrades to the power grid. Cost-benefit accounting has revealed inequities that hamper technological progress, potentially affecting future grid security.

As soon as we admit these faults exist, utilities and developers can start to compromise on more equitable process development.

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Source: pv magazine