While California leads the U.S. clean energy transformation toward decarbonization, seven Northeastern states—New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island and Maine—when combined, rival the Golden State in renewable energy deployment, energy efficiency (EE) and electric vehicle (EV) adoption. In fact, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Massachusetts has been ranked the No. 1 state in energy efficiency nationwide for eight consecutive years, beating California in this category each year. Why?

When you put the state numbers together, the Northeast is greener than you might think (definitely more than I thought before moving to Massachusetts from California two years ago). Right behind Massachusetts and California in the 2018 ACEEE State Energy Efficiency Scorecard is Rhode Island (No. 3), Vermont (No. 4), Connecticut (No. 5) and New York (No. 6). This is mostly due to Northeast states spending more money per capita on EE and state transit than California. As noted in the ACEEE scorecard, “A state’s investment in public transit is a key indicator of its interest in promoting energy-efficient modes of transportation.”

Read related CSE News, CSE and Stony Brook University Announce Collaboration for Clean Energy Development

Northeast successes

The Northeast states have a history of working together toward common goals—and have done so in building EE, transportation electrification and electric sector decarbonization through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

RGGI is a program that creates a cap-and-invest market for carbon emissions from power plants in nine member states. RGGI states have reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) significantly since 2005, while the region’s per capita GDP has continued to grow. Since its first auction in 2008, RGGI has generated more than $2.6 billion of revenue and contributed to CO2 emissions from electricity generating facilities dropping by nearly 40% during 2009-17.

In 2018, Massachusetts also established a first-of-its-kind Clean Peak Energy Standard to incentivize the utilization of clean energy during times of peak demand when the grid is most strained and emits the most greenhouse gasses (GHGs).

Regionally, the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) builds on the multistate collaboration that led to the establishment of RGGI and looks to tackle the more than one-third of GHG emissions that come from the region’s transportation sector. TCI is a collaboration of 12 Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, of which nine have agreed to develop a comprehensive cap-and-invest system by the end of 2019.

In addition, 10 Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states have chosen, under section 177 of the federal Clean Air Act, to follow California’s vehicle emissions standards. It is these standards that require an increasing percentage of new vehicles sold to be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). In 2013, nine states, seven from the Northeast and mid-Atlantic and California and Oregon signed an agreement to build a robust market for ZEVs.

Legislators and regulators in Northeastern states have opened the doors to clean energy programs, despite the lack of current federal leadership. This year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new initiatives he is referring to as the “Green New Deal” with the following goals:

  • Increasing New York’s Clean Energy Standard to 100% clean energy by 2040
  • Nearly quadrupling New York’s offshore wind target to 9,000 megawatts by 2035
  • Deploying 3,000 megawatts of energy storage by 2030
  • Doubling solar deployment to 6,000 megawatts by 2025

It is also no coincidence that the Green New Deal that Congress is debating has original sponsors from the Northeast states of New York (U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and Massachusetts (U.S. Senator Ed Markey). Of the 91 current sponsors in the House, after California, the largest number of co-sponsors hail from New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Of the 12 co-sponsors in the Senate, seven are from the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region.

CSE in the Northeast

Bold and rapid actions are needed to reduce fossil fuel use and slash GHG emissions. With this focus, the CSE Northeast team is working as a transparent, independent partner to decarbonize the built environment and transportation sectors through efforts in the region to achieve greater sustainable energy deployment and higher EE goals.

For example, CSE recently signed a research agreement with Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y., that establishes a strategic partnership with their Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center to serve as a catalyst for designing and developing programs and technologies to help transform the clean energy market through the electrification of buildings and transportation.

The opportunity to reduce emissions in the Northeast building sector is aided by the availability of cold climate heat pumps, advanced wood heat and the use of biofuels in place of oil in existing heating equipment. CSE is focusing on these technologies as a primary path to reduce emissions and consumer costs.

We’re also demonstrating how energy storage technologies can help flatten the electricity load as it shifts over time due to increased EVs, heat pumps and behind-the-meter solar. Increasing our ability to shift loads and dispatch stored energy during peak demand periods is critical to achieving a decarbonized future, where the primary energy sources will be more variable and intermittent.

To decarbonize transportation, CSE is working with regional partners to administer EV incentive programs and develop climate-smart pathways that connect EV charging stations in a ubiquitous electric charging infrastructure network to support widespread EV deployment.

CSE’s CA experience

In California, CSE has developed best practices for designing and implementing renewable energy and clean transportation programs that drive the marketplace and consumer adoption—and we are working to bring this experience to the Northeast. One example, after many years of administering general market and low-income programs for the California Solar Initiative that ended in 2016, we pushed for a collaborative approach to managing California’s new Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) program—and won the contract.

The California Public Utilities Commission created SOMAH to provide up to $100 million annually for 10 years to help reach state climate goals by funding solar energy installations on multifamily housing serving low-income and disadvantaged communities, with the direct financial benefits for residents.

Instead of going it alone, CSE joined with other leading not-for-profit clean energy and affordable housing organizations to form a community-minded and values-driven administrative team. We believe this approach will deliver the maximum possible benefit for the tenants and communities it is designed to serve, by ensuring that every program component is delivered effectively, efficiently and with a mission-led and values-based approach. We effectively turned potential competitors into collaborators with complementary strengths and a strong public benefit lens.

Partner with us

CSE is now established in the Northeast with offices in Boston, Brooklyn and Stony Brook, increasing our ability to serve government agencies, utilities, businesses and residents as they plan and achieve higher sustainable energy and efficiency goals.

If you share our commitment to accelerate the just transition to a sustainable world powered by clean energy, we welcome a conversation to learn and explore how we might collaborate and develop policies and programs that provide greater benefit for the region’s residents through accelerated decarbonization.

To contact CSE in the Northeast, email Shawn Jones or John Livermore or call 857-243-2021 (Boston) or 213-805-7266 (Brooklyn).

The solar industry is on the move—expanding into new states and creating new business opportunities across the country. In fact, the Energy Information Administration estimates that by 2050 solar could be 15% of total U.S. electricity generation.

As a part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) all-of-the-above strategy, since March 2018 more than $400 million has been committed to new solar projects, reflecting the administration’s continued commitment to lower solar electricity costs.

There’s still more work we can do to lower costs and securely integrate more solar with the grid—all with new technologies developed and made within our borders. For years, technologies that the United States has pioneered have been produced abroad and imported at much lower costs. New innovations can help leapfrog the status quo, making what’s currently being produced and imported obsolete.

One way the administration is reinvigorating solar manufacturing is through the American-Made Solar Prize—a $3 million prize competition designed to leverage American ingenuity and competitive spirit to accelerate the development of new solar solutions. The Solar Prize pairs innovators with private sector entities, national labs, and other industry experts to take great ideas and make them into prototypes ready for customer testing.

This week, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy announced that 20 teams from 15 states will each receive a $50,000 cash prize and advance to the second stage of the competition where they will work alongside the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the American Made Network to further develop their ideas. Teams will tackle a variety of solar challenges, including the development of new photovoltaic (PV) cell designs that can increase efficiency and improve manufacturability, new devices that ease PV installation and use low-cost silicon carbide, and new hardware and module designs that enable new applications for PV. The range of solar innovations is impressive but in the end, the best ideas and collaborators will take home the grand prize—a $500,000 cash prize and perhaps a new, American-Made business too.

These innovators are risking their time, reputation, and capital to change the solar industry. With the support of this program, we’ll speed the time it takes to make relevant, viable solutions that can help to reestablish the United States’ competitive edge in every part of the solar supply chain, including manufacturing.

Learn more about the American-Made Solar Prize and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

With adoption of Senate Bill 700, California has renewed commitment to distributed energy resources by extending the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) for an additional five years and allocating the program up to $830 million. The funds will primarily support energy storage systems for commercial and residential use, extending the program’s role in encouraging adoption of emerging technologies that help achieve the state’s energy goals.

While energy storage is particularly useful for commercial consumers who need to shave off periods of high energy consumption and peak demand billing, its application by homeowners to store solar power is growing rapidly in reaction to regulatory actions.

Changing energy landscape

Changes in energy regulation in California over the past year have complicated the return on investment for homeowners wanting to install roof-top photovoltaic (PV) systems. Now, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) requires new solar customers to go on time-of-use (TOU) electricity rates, and California’s major utilities have been allowed to set residential peak demand periods later in the day.

A TOU rate means the price of electricity is more expensive during hours when a region’s electric demand is highest and the grid most stressed. This time frame has been shifting to the late afternoon and early evening when PV production declines as the sun goes down. This means that solar customers may still pay for grid power at the highest utility rates, after their PV system stops producing energy.

Because of these changes, it’s considerably harder for contractors to sell solar, as the value proposition has become considerably more complex. And with various TOU rates and different peak demand times among the utilities, it can be difficult for customers to understand all the information needed to confidently determine a system’s economic realities prior to installation.

Solar+storage solution

Small-scale, lithium-ion storage batteries, such as the Tesla Powerwall and the LG Chem/SolarEdge systems, provide solar homeowners an alternative to paying for electricity at higher evening rates by banking excess PV generation during the daytime and discharging energy to offset electricity costs when TOU rates are most expensive. This practice of using batteries to offset peak pricing is common for commercial and industrial facilities but is just now taking hold in home use.

While energy storage may provide an edge when dealing with TOU rates, it may also create a different financial quandary because storage systems add significantly to the cost of a PV installation. A typical 6-kilowatt home PV system runs between $20,000 - $30,000, and a 5-kW storage system may add another $7,000 to $15,000. To help reduce costs, rebates from SGIP on average can slash the cost of a storage system by half, and many customers are eligible to receive the federal investment tax credit of up to 30 percent on both the solar and storage systems. Note that SGIP rebate levels decline over time based on demand, so award amounts vary.

Self-Generation Incentive Program

Since its inception in 2001, the SGIP has driven adoption of local distributed energy resources, such as solar PV, fuel cells and microturbines. Today, it is primarily an energy storage program with the goal of clean energy market transformation, greenhouse gas reductions and electric grid benefits. Residential home batteries are by far the fastest growing sector within the program. Since last year, the SGIP has incentivized more than 1,100 home battery storage installations, with over 6,400 additional projects soon to be completed.

See how it works

Homeowners and contractors in the San Diego Gas & Electric service territory desiring to learn more about SGIP rebates for energy storage can visit CSE’s SGIP website. For information in other areas of the state, contact your local utility.

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed Senate Bill (SB) 1339 (Stern, 2018) that orders the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to examine the benefits of electrical microgrids and possibly develop a rate structure—otherwise known as a “tariff”—which can set the stage for a very promising future for greater microgrid integration into the state’s power grid.

Once developed, a microgrid tariff could increase renewable energy integration and provide opportunities for greater grid resiliency. However, creating a microgrid tariff is no easy task. Much could go wrong, and the CPUC needs to use extra care to hit the mark on two major elements to ensure success for SB 1339: interconnection and compensation.

InterconnectionConnecting microgrids to the main distribution gird

Among the largest barriers to microgrid interconnection in California is Public Utilities Code Section 218(b), which places a heavy regulatory burden on those who wish to share self-generated power across nonadjacent property lines.

In examining how this statute can be modified for microgrids, the California Legislature may want to take a page from Connecticut and allow microgrids to share power across public streets and boundaries for smaller installations, perhaps for those under 5 megawatts. Adoption of such a statute would allow microgrid owners and operators to explore more options without the unrealistic requirement that they be regulated like a utility if they serve properties not immediately adjacent to one another.

But as microgrids grow in popularity, changing a few rules may not be enough. A 2014 CPUC staff white paper contemplated the role of microgrids in California’s energy future. One recommendation suggested regulators begin to transform California’s electric utilities from the classic model of top-down, one-way distribution network operators into “distributed system operators” that provide a more complex model that accounts for and manages a host of dispersed generation sources, energy storage and other modern technologies. The white paper stated such an entity may be better equipped to “determine appropriate costs for both interconnection and delivery of electricity traveling over the distribution grid. This approach would allow the customer and other service providers to offer additional products and services in support of a microgrid.”

Whatever path the CPUC decides to take, reducing the costs and complexity of interconnecting microgrids should be the primary goal of any future tariff.

CompensationHow operators are paid for exported and imported energy

For many years, microgrids were primarily sources of backup power for critical installations, such as hospitals, research facilities and military bases. Important advances in photovoltaics, energy storage and networked technologies mean that modern microgrids can take a much more active role than before. For example, not only can microgrids provide load for critical services when there’s an outage, they can also sell clean power to the utility when excess energy is produced.

Microgrids also help reduce peak load and curb transition losses by locating generation near demand. Furthermore, microgrids can reduce greenhouse gas emissions as they are ideal for incorporating solar, wind, energy storage and clean cogeneration systems.

The most effective method for ensuring microgrids properly contribute to the grid is to establish fair and effective value streams for services they can provide. Without a solid value stream for both the utilities and microgrid owners and operators, there is little incentive for microgrid operators to invest in more innovative practices that could benefit everyone.

One option is allowing microgrids to participate in wholesale electric markets. This would ensure that microgrid power delivered to the main grid would represent the same value as other sources of electricity that participate on open energy markets. However, this approach doesn’t capture other benefits microgrids provide, such as grid stability and resiliency.

The CPUC therefore should consider creating a unique pricing structure for microgrid power exports, similar to net energy metering, that captures the benefits microgrids provide to the utility but also considers the costs microgrids might incur on the grid, such as requiring utilities to maintain standby power and provide power distribution. Also crucial for this tariff is the ability for microgrid owners and operators to participate in demand response and load shifting programs that could represent additional value streams for all parties.