December 29, 2010

IREC’s Year in Review

Many thanks to our friends and colleagues at DSIRE and Keyes & Fox for this information. For a more in-depth discussion of these trends, please take a look at IREC’s Annual Trends & Updates Report (October 2010) and the 2010 Edition of Freeing the Grid. While overall solar policy trends have been positive, states faced…

Many thanks to our friends and colleagues at DSIRE and Keyes & Fox for this information.

For a more in-depth discussion of these trends, please take a look at IREC’s Annual Trends & Updates Report (October 2010) and the 2010 Edition of Freeing the Grid.

While overall solar policy trends have been positive, states faced several challenges over the last year. Taken as a whole, Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) policies, direct cash incentive programs, net metering and interconnection standards moved forward, while feed-in-tariffs policy adoption slowed and PACE financing (mostly) ground to a halt.

State-level solar policy development has continued its recent brisk pace of change, with no fewer than 47 states – plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands – modifying elements of a solar program or policy.

State-level renewables portfolio standards (RPS) continued to evolve; numerous financial incentive programs were created and expanded (although many programs wrestled with funding imbalances due to high demand); and most solar tax credits weathered the worst of the state budget crises.

While RPS policies and solar carve-outs remain an important part of the state policy landscape, there have been few major developments this year, compared to recent years. However, several states modified policies.

During the last year, there was significant activity involving direct cash incentives, which include rebates, grants, feed-in tariffs (FITs) and other forms of performance-based incentives (PBIs), and renewable energy credit (REC) purchase programs.  As of August 2010, 27 new solar programs were created; 47 programs were modified in some way; and several programs were discontinued

State SREC markets exhibit improved price transparency, additional sales opportunities and increased tracking-system compatibility.

From September 2009 to August 2010, nine states have enacted new legislation authorizing local governments to establish PACE programs bringing the total of states that authorize PACE to 24. However, guidance from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in May 2010, and from the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA) in July 2010, have raised questions about federal support of PACE.

Freeing the Grid has been published for several years now, so we can see the progress in state procedures for the past few years – and it’s impressive.  Twenty states now have very accommodating interconnection procedures.  Lots of bottlenecks have been removed.

Net metering policy is even more established.  Sixteen states have policies that are graded at the A level and another 19 grade in at a B.  That means this policy that fairly values solar energy is the law in over half the country, with much of the rest of the country having some less comprehensive version of the policy.  A total of 43 states have net metering programs.

Seventeen states have affirmatively resolved that a third-party owner of a solar array, selling the energy on-site to the property owner, is not a utility.

Community Renewables programs are taking off allowing many people who want to invest in solar energy but are unable to with their own, on-site systems – maybe they have a shaded roof, maybe they live in a high rise or multitenant property or maybe their home has structural issues.  Given significant interest by stakeholders and policy makers in expanding opportunities for participation in state solar programs, IREC has developed model rules for community programs that embody many of the best practices of programs that have been implemented to date.

A Quick Recap of IREC’s 2010 Publications

U.S. Solar Market Trends — The number of new grid-connected PV installations grew by 40% in 2009 compared with the number installed in 2008. The two largest PV systems installed in 2009 together accounted for 12% of the annual installed PV capacity.  In IREC’s U.S. Solar Market Trends report (2010), primary author, Larry Sherwood, provides public data on U.S. solar installations by technology, state and market sector.

IREC’s 2010 Updates & Trends Report — Released at IREC’s Annual Meeting in Los Angeles in October, the report brings together a collection of updates and trends covering regulatory issues, policies and incentives, installation and market data, and workforce development and training from IREC’s team.

Based on best practices, Model Rules for Community Renewables (2010) are presented to facilitate co-investment in local renewable power facilities.  Interest in community solar and wind initiatives stems from recognition that many utility customers are not able to host an on-site renewable power system, yet they would like to invest in local renewable generation. Examples include occupants of multi-tenant residential and commercial buildings, and properties not conducive to an on-site system, due to shading or structural restrictions.  IREC’s model rules consider many of the basic issues facing community renewables programs.

2010 Field Inspection Guidelines for PV Systems — According to its author, Bill Brooks of Brooks Solar, the intent of the 2010 Guidelines is to consolidate the most import aspects of a field inspection into a simple process that can be performed in as little as 15 minutes. Explanation and illustrative pictures are provided to instruct the inspector on the specific details of each step.

IREC has created a Solar Licensing Database as a resource for policy makers, practitioners, consumers, and anyone else looking for solar licensing information in the U.S.  The state-by-state information offers a handy comparison for reviewing the different approaches across state lines, and identifies various practices for regulating the solar installation industry.

Best Practices & Recommended Guidelines for Renewable Energy Training (2010) — The 26-page document covers recommended principles for training; reviews industry-approved job/task analyses; discusses types of educational programs; walks through the essential steps of designing a training course; offers a checklist for assessing learning outcomes; looks at certification and accreditation; and lists resources to assist in training.

Good Teaching Matters (2010) discusses five important teaching practices that can improve the quality of a training course. Written by Dr. Barbara Martin, who specializes in instructional design, the five practices include: know your students; write learning objectives; include practice and feedback in the training; create simple Power Point slides; and design test and evaluation measures that promote transfer.

Sustainable Multi-Segment Market Design — Written for Solar ABCs by IREC’s Kevin Fox and North Carolina Solar Center’s Laurel Varnado, this report discusses the important differences between retail and wholesale PV markets and provides examples of policies that have been implemented in the United States in both of these markets.

North Carolina Solar Center’s Laurel Varnado and DSIRE’s Justin Barnes’ The Intersection of Net Metering & Retail Choice is a thoughtful overview of methodologies states use to accomplish “net metering” in competitive electricity markets.