The United States, like Canada, is experiencing a monumental shift toward using solar energy. From Alaska to Florida, state legislatures are considering policies that will shape the energy grid and how renewable energy is produced and compensated. These trends are going to be the topic of Autumn Proudlove’s presentation at Solar Canada 2018. Proudlove, Manager of Policy Research at the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, sat down with us to give a little taste of what she will be talking about at the conference.
What are you most excited about in the area of solar energy in North America?
I’m most excited about the pairing of solar energy with other technologies, like energy storage and electric vehicles – I think there’s significant value there. There’s real opportunity for policies and rate designs to encourage these types of pairings and lead to efficient outcomes.
In particular, at higher penetrations of solar, pairing solar with storage can help overcome issues of timing imbalance between energy production and demand (known as the “duck curve”) that some areas are starting to encounter. This possibility adds real value to the systems. This is something that California has explored in great detail, as they are increasing the amount of renewable energy generation in the state.
Could you give us a brief rundown on what you will be focusing in your presentation at Solar Canada 2018?
I will be discussing the policy landscape for solar energy, as well as energy storage in the U.S., focusing on state-level policies. I will be going into what types of solar policy changes state policymakers and regulators are currently considering and what the big issues are and what trends are developing.
I hope people come away with a better understanding of the different policy approaches that are being taken with solar in the U.S. and what options are out there. These can be then considered and applied to the Canadian context as opportunities arise.
What are the biggest challenges you see to the growth of solar energy?
One issue that’s been heating up here in the U.S. is the future of net metering and what different options are out there for solar and distributed generation compensation. Many options have been explored by states, right now we’re just watching what choices are being made.
Another big challenge is market access – the need to have better rules surrounding grid access and participation in the energy production market, as well as better compensation for providing owners of solar arrays with value for what they export to the grid.
There is also much hesitancy amongst regulators regarding higher solar penetration as I talked about earlier and the duck curve. We don’t necessarily know what that’s going to mean in terms of reliability and cost to the grid. I think that’s where energy storage can be a great complement to solar energy to help alleviate the uncertainty. We also need address the lack of information about solar energy technology on different levels, which makes it difficult for policymakers to make the best decisions.
What are the most influential issues that are shaping current dialogue about solar energy?
Cost declines have been influential, like these solar power purchasing agreements (PPAs), with record-low deals being signed. This also extends to the rooftop solar sector, where more areas with distributed solar are reaching reached grid parity. It makes financial sense for home and business owners to install solar and save on their electric bills. It’s no longer something people do only because it’s good for the environment or to be energy independent — there’s real economic sense behind it.
Another driver has been resilience: with so many natural disasters occurring in the U.S., it has brought to the forefront resilience in the energy sector, and solar is certainly one technology that can help bolster that, due to its distributed nature and fuel availability.
What is one thing that you feel would surprise people your work?
We get many questions about our methodology – much of the work that we do is tracking policy developments across the entire country. Many people ask us how we do that. I think it would surprise people we don’t have an automated system that automatically keeps track of everything, but it is actually us digging in and reading legislation and docket filings and analyzing the activity that’s occurring. I think it’s useful to have that human analysis and insight on these policy actions.
If you would like to learn more about energy trends in the U.S. and ask Autumn Proudlove more questions about the state of solar energy policy, we invite you to join her for her presentation at Solar 2018 on June 21.