In This Issue
As the end of the year approaches, many solar projects are rushing to the finish line to ensure they qualify for 2012 tax credits. But this is also a time of year when various conditions such as adverse weather and increased market activity, can impact meter installations, inspections and issuing Permission to Operate letters.
In order to keep solar projects on track for interconnection by Dec. 31, utility managers for the California Solar Initiative urge solar contractors to file paperwork for net energy metering (NEM) applications as soon as possible. See below for specific information for each utility territory, including deadlines for interconnection paperwork.
SCE: For customers of Southern California Edison, the deadline for all NEM applications, single line drawings, plot plans and signed agreements was Oct. 26 for projects seeking interconnection by Dec. 31. The deadline for submission of final inspections by the authority having jurisdiction on projects seeking 2012 interconnection is Nov. 30. To speed interconnection, SCE has published Form 14-923, a new agreement for solar & wind systems up to 10 kW, that does not have to be signed by an SCE representative. SCE will continue to accept Form 16-344 for all systems seeking to interconnect under the NEM tariff, but strongly encourages use of Form 14-923 for eligible systems because it will cut the typical interconnection time by 2-3days.
CSI Program Status Update by Service Territory
Thanks to the efforts of solar contractors and others in the solar industry, the CSI program is more popular than ever as all three general market Program Administrators — California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE), Southern California Edison (SCE) and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) — continue to blaze through megawatts.
In San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) service territory, CCSE has met the residential sector target of incentivizing 59.5 megawatts (MW) of solar, and they’re not done yet.
That’s because there are still funds available for the CSI residential program in the SDG&E territory due to project dropouts and the lower incentive rate in Step 10. Therefore, CCSE will continue to issue rebates for the residential installations in SDG&E territory until the allocated rebate budget has been spent. The forecasted remaining rebate budget and the corresponding available capacity in megawatts is listed in Table 1 of the CSI General Market Budget Report on the California Solar Statistics website. CCSE is currently about half way through Step 8 of the nonresidential sector in the SDG&E territory.
Meanwhile, SCE has received enough residential applications to fulfill the goals of Step 8 and will soon move to residential Step 9 with a rebate amount of $0.25/watt. SCE has approximately 39 MW remaining in the Step 8 nonresidential sector.
Rebates in PG&E’s territory for both the residential and nonresidential sectors are currently in Step 10, the final step of the CSI program.
As evidenced from previous step changes, the last few megawatts in each step go very fast. During a step change, the PAs experience a large increase in application submission volume, so contractors are urged to ensure that applications are correct and complete when submitted.
To stay up to date with rebate levels across the state, visit www.csi-trigger.com.
Who says money can’t buy happiness? Certainly not solar water heating customers, who now get bigger rebates for solar thermal systems.
In response to market conditions and a strong commitment to the success of solar water heating, the California Public Utilities Commission voted to approve a decision to increase the rebates it gives to customers installing qualifying solar thermal systems.
The commission decision authorized a 45% increase in the Step 1 incentive level for single-family residential customers and a 13.33% increase in the Step 1 incentive level for commercial and multifamily residential customers. The remaining steps have been adjusted so that the total therms and kilowatt-hours displaced over the course of the program remain the same. This increase in incentives early in the CSI-Thermal Program is designed to boost early participation and foster development of the solar water heating market.
To further increase interest in the CSI-Thermal Program, Program Administrators launched a $5 million media campaign for its website WaterHeatedByTheSun.com, which encourages the public to make solar water heating part of their “green routine.”
The CSI-Thermal Program provides rebates based on expected performance for water heating systems that displace electricity, natural gas and propane . Rebates drop in steps as more capacity is added.
State regulators want to protect consumers by pegging solar project costs to industry averages. How do your costs compare?
CSI Program Administrators routinely implement a “soft cap” on system costs among solar rebate applicants. If a higher-than-average solar project files a rebate application, PAs require applicants to submit a High Cost Justification and Acknowledgment Form before their incentive will be approved, as per section 3.4.5 of the CSI Program Handbook.
Separate cost caps are calculated for two size categories: systems up to 10 kW (CEC-AC) and systems 10 kW and greater. For each of these size categories, the cost cap calculation is based on the cost per watt for host customer-owned projects completed within the past 12 months. The simple average of all cost per watt values for these projects is determined, and an additional $1.00 is applied to that value. For an example of how the cost cap is calculated, click here.
Currently, the cost cap prices are $8.50/watt for systems less than 10kW; for systems greater than or equal to 10kW, the cap is $7.25. Most residential systems are less than 10kW, and costs for larger systems tend to be lower than those for smaller systems.
The price per watt that solar contractors in the CSI program charge is public information, and customers and installers alike can benefit by robust cost comparisons in the Find a Contractor database. Simply enter your zip code and application data for all contractors — including the average costs for their projects — will appear.
When comparing solar contractors, important factors to consider include number of projects completed, average project costs and average system sizes. Consumers should always compare three bids before deciding to buy and always check the contractor’s license at the Contractors State License Board.
In July 2012, Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) began SmartMeter™ upgrades for approximately 70,000 existing solar and net energy metering (NEM) customers throughout their service area. PG&E is also providing new customers enrolling in the solar and NEM program with SmartMeters when their interconnection application is approved.
Residential customers in PG&E’s solar and NEM program can opt out of the SmartMeter program and keep or get a digital meter at their home. Fees set by the California Public Utilities Commission do apply to customers selecting this option. For more information on how to opt-out, visit www.pge.com/smartmeteroptout.
In the long run, the smart meters are expected to decrease demand on the power grid, better utilize renewable energy sources and reduce the need for additional power plants. In addition, the meters will allow renewable customers to see their net usage online, including how and when they're using or generating energy. The SmartMeter data can help customers seek to further reduce their energy consumption to lower their overall energy costs and maximize their renewable investment. SmartMeter upgrades will not change NEM customers' existing billing and services.
For more information about SmartMeter upgrades for renewable customers, visit www.pge.com/solarupgrade or contact the PG&E Solar Customer Service Center at 877-743-4112.
Some say it’s a boondoggle; others herald net energy metering as the heart and soul of solar energy. The California Public Utilities Commission convened a workshop recently to sort it all out.
On October 22, CPUC staff met with stakeholders and the consulting firm Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) to kick off a legislative-mandated study on the costs and benefits of net energy metering (NEM). NEM is a utility tariff that allows a solar or other renewable customer’s meter to spin backwards, crediting them for energy they produce in excess of the energy used on site.
This study fulfills the requirements of Assembly Bill 2514 (Bradford, 2012) and Commission Decision (D.) 12-05-036, which requires a study on the costs and benefits of NEM by Oct. 1, 2013. The NEM study will be completed in two phases beginning with Phase 1: Net energy metering ratepayer impact and concluding with Phase 2: White paper on NEM alternatives.
The first phase of this project will be to calculate the ratepayer impacts of NEM for all participating technologies (solar, wind, fuel cell, microturbine, etc.) using the best available data and information. The analysis will be performed at two penetration levels: The capacity needed to reach the solar photovoltaic goals of CSI and the net metering cap as defined by D. 12-05-036. Phase 1 of the study is scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2013.
The second phase of the study, scheduled to be completed in the second quarter of 2013, will be to compare alternatives to NEM using a framework that highlights the balance between the financial proposition for customers to install renewable DG and the overall impact on ratepayers.
The CSI Program Administrators have observed an increase in claims for performance-based incentive (PBI) applications that have been submitted prior to the installation of a performance meter.
The CSI program requires that the customer’s solar system is completely installed and interconnected to the grid before the incentive claim form can be submitted. For PBI systems, the performance meter also needs to be fully installed, functioning correctly and able to be read by the performance data provider.
Submitting incentive claim applications prematurely causes delays in application processing time and in customer payments. We ask applicants of PBI projects to ensure that the performance meter is completely installed, functioning and the contracted performance data provider is reading data before submitting the claim form to the CSI PAs. We plan to include language in the CSI Handbook to reinforce this requirement for PBI systems along with consequences for failure to do so. We appreciate your continued support in making the incentive claim process more efficient and customer focused.
Early in the morning of October 13, 30 employee volunteers from San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) donned hard hats and harnesses and got ready to help install solar on four homes in the Broadway Heights neighborhood of San Diego. Dubbed the Solar Installation Challenge, the event was a partnership with nonprofit GRID Alternatives to bring affordable solar power to low-income families in the community.
“I think everyone should get involved in something like this,” homeowner Henry Mitchell told a reporter from CBS News 8 who was on the scene. “For the environment, economically, it’s wonderful.” His 2.8 kW system will save him more than $26,000 over its lifetime.
SDG&E kicked off the event by presenting GRID Alternatives with a $20,000 check, representing an award from its foundation. SDG&E and the Sempra family of companies have contributed more than $125,000 to GRID since 2009, helping fill in the rebate gap for homeowners like these and supporting GRID’s job training efforts.
“Events like this are a win-win,” said Paul Cleary, GRID Alternatives San Diego regional director. “Local families see real savings from solar, and the volunteers get a chance to not only learn new skills, but also experience the impact of their company’s investment in the community. We’re thrilled to be partnering with SDG&E.”
On Nov. 30, San Diego Gas & Electric will conduct a training workshop on the New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP) Program. This is an opportunity for solar contractors and installers, retailers, builders and developers, HERS raters, energy consultants, homeowners and all interested parties to learn more about changes to the program, the application process and the NSHP online application tool.
The NSHP program is a ten-year, $400 million solar program that provides incentives for the installation of photovoltaic (PV) solar systems on new, energy-efficient homes in California’s investor-owned utility electric service territories.
This workshop will be taught by staff members of the California Energy Commission and will include information on the following topics.
For more information on the workshop and registration, click here. If you plan to attend, send a RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. A WebEx online presentation will be available for those unable to attend.
Since the August 2011 launch of the SAVE (Solar Advantage Value Estimator) free online tool, more and more Californians have used it to quickly estimate the energy savings achievable by installing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system on their home or business.
Developed by the California Energy Commission, more than 3,100 SAVE calculations have been completed by realtors, appraisers, lenders, builders and other finance and building industry professionals as well as homeowners and consumers. Free online SAVE WebEx trainings are available through December 27. Registration is free; for more info, click here.
In October, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory broke ground on its latest research facility, the Solar Energy Research Center, where scientists will develop a prototype to create alternative transportation fuels from solar panels.
In a public–private partnership that includes CSI’s Research, Development and Demonstration (RD&D) program, the state-of-the-art facility will house the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, whose goal is to create artificial photosynthesis technology that will one day be used to generate fuel from solar “photosystems.”
Using artificial photosynthesis — the process plants use to turn sunlight into energy — such photosystems may be capable of generating fuel from sunlight ten times more efficiently than agricultural fuel crops.
Read more about the center and this new technology at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory News Center. For more information on the CSI RD&D program, including the entire portfolio of solar grantees’ projects, click here.
Call for Photos and Stories of CSI-Funded Solar Systems
Submit your CSI-funded solar system photos and stories here.
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