Interconnection: A Foundational Policy for Solar Market Expansion

Here at IREC, we work on the foundational issues that facilitate solar market growth.  These issues, such as interconnection procedures, net metering and permitting guidelines, may not be the latest “hot topics” but they are nonetheless crucial to a thriving solar market. It’s akin to renovating an old house – you can install granite countertops and new appliances but if you don’t maintain the foundation, people probably won’t want to move in.

To increase our impact on these foundational policies, IREC spends a lot of time researching best practices and forming them into model language that can be widely used and adopted. Policymakers can’t be experts in every subject, so models provide a much-needed roadmap to help them navigate and understand the complexities of solar policy, especially in such a technically dense subject as distributed generation (DG) interconnection.

Last month IREC issued an update to its Model Interconnection Procedures, which were last updated in 2009.  Since then, we have seen incredible growth in the market, which has triggered interconnection reform in several high growth states. In fact, the Solar Electric Power Association recently reported that California’s Pacific Gas and Electric alone interconnected more than 17,500 net-metered systems in 2012. IREC based this updated model on evolving best practices that have developed from recent state rulemakings across the country, particularly in California, Hawaii and Massachusetts.

These updated procedures contain a number of important changes that provide more transparency and certainty in the interconnection process, without compromising safety, reliability or power quality.  For example, in higher-penetration areas, finding high-value locations for DG can become more difficult.  For example, in the updated model, IREC has incorporated the option of a pre-application report, which can reduce unnecessary interconnection applications for a utility by providing information about grid conditions at a proposed location.

Also of particular significance, the procedures include more sophisticated sizing criteria for expedited interconnections, which include a consideration of the line voltage at the proposed location.  This change allows for a more nuanced approach to determining whether a generator will cause adverse impact on the system.  For example, larger generators may pose a lower likelihood of impact when located close to the substation and on a main feeder line, and would therefore be able to avoid a lengthy study process.

For more information on the updates in our model procedures, please refer to IREC’s brand new website, which has been redesigned to provide you with more intuitive access to IREC’s news, tools and publications.

As the solar market continues to evolve across the country, forward-thinking states and utilities will need to implement interconnection procedures that allow for higher penetrations of solar while maintaining a safe and reliable grid. This model provides states and utilities with a practical next step, one that allows the solar market to support the incredible forecasted growth that we hope to see in the near future.

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