Unlocking Solar Growth in New York and Beyond

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) announced that Utilidata – along with our partners, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Standard Solar – has been selected to work with National Grid to prove that our software can rapidly increase the amount of solar on the grid and improve the profitability of solar farms throughout New York and beyond.

Twenty-nine states now mandate that a percentage of their electricity comes from renewable resources;  13 of those states will soon require 50 percent renewables or more. In New York, Governor Cuomo recently signed a bill that will completely decarbonize the electric grid in 20 years, including doubling solar installations in the next five years. 

Solar already constituted 40 percent of all new generation in 2019, and these laws will accelerate that trend. This amount of solar will overwhelm the grid if we do not quickly improve how we integrate solar with grid operations.

Failing to address this problem will mean utility customers are burdened with massive grid upgrade costs and solar development will grind to a halt. The symptoms will include lengthy grid interconnection requests; huge grid upgrade costs levied on solar projects; solar moratoriums imposed by utilities for overwhelmed portions of the grid; and operational challenges, like poor power quality or damaged equipment. These are not hypothetical scenarios – they are already happening in Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and beyond, and the solar boom is just getting started.

But there is another path forward.

A modest investment in sensors and controls, combined with real-time, machine-learning optimization software will not only avoid these issues, but will also create lucrative new revenue streams for solar projects, making them even more affordable for customers. This is what our project in New York will prove.

Real-Time, Distributed Solar Optimization

For over a decade, Utilidata’s real-time optimization platform has been operating the distribution grid to drive greater efficiency by reducing voltage levels. That same platform has been shown to smooth out voltage conditions on solar-heavy circuits, effectively increasing hosting capacity and reducing grid upgrade costs. With the NYSERDA project, we will directly integrate our platform with smart inverters to demonstrate an end-to-end solution that can dramatically increase solar on the grid in a way that is safe, reliable, affordable, and fast.

Our partners in this project position us well to succeed. NREL is the world leader in smart inverter optimization, and we will first use their amazing testing facility – essentially a mini-electric grid – to test the full solution. We will then deploy it on a portion of National Grid’s system that Utilidata is already optimizing for energy efficiency, and directly link our platform to smart inverters on one of Standard Solar’s mid-sized solar farms, utilizing a technology we recently acquired that puts powerful operational controls right at the grid-edge.

With this system in place, we will demonstrate:

  • Reduced interconnection times and costs enabled by better system visibility and scenario modeling
  • Increased solar hosting capacity without costly system upgrades
  • Improved reliability from using solar to bolster distribution system operations
  • Improved payback for the solar farm by adding new revenue streams for grid services
  • The ability to execute this optimization in a cyber- and grid-secure manner

Rapidly Scaling via the Smart Meter

The most important part of this solution is making sure it can scale quickly. Many companies and research firms can analyze data offline, demonstrate value in carefully controlled experiments, or stand up clunky centralized systems that will quickly be overwhelmed by exponential solar growth. But if a solution cannot scale, it’s just a science experiment. We see three keys to scaling.

First, get the business model right. This is a core deliverable of our New York project. Companies like Standard Solar thrive when their projects are seamless and have predictable revenue streams. We will work with Standard Solar and other solar partners to make sure grid integration is attractive to both the solar company and utility.

Second, pick a scalable technology. Optimization platforms will soon live in a world with too much information to feed back to a centralized model that is updated every few months, at best. A scalable grid-edge platform must use a continuously updating virtual power flow model and utilize local data to make local decisions.

Third, the technology needs an efficient and universal deployment channel. This is why we are embedding our solar-enabling optimization solution in smart meters. Every new meter should come out of the box ready to optimize solar and other distributed energy resources. The meter is the perfect technical and commercial vehicle to drive integration of grid-edge resources. And no company has more experience deploying software on smart meters, as evidenced by our ground-breaking partnerships with Landis+Gyr and Itron, the two largest meter companies in the world. We are grateful for New York’s leadership in addressing the looming solar challenge. States are moving rapidly toward a clean electric grid. Distributed optimization software is an essential ingredient to make sure our path to that clean grid is safe, reliable, affordable, and fast.