Policymakers and regulators must ensure homeowners are part of the solution
By Colin Mattox, ConnectDER
In the last decade, electric utilities have awakened to a new world: mini-and micro-grids that can isolate themselves from the bulk power grid; skyrocketing residential solar installations; rapid adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and chargers; and a rapidly changing climate pushing the grid to its limits. As customer-owned resources — like rooftop solar, home storage, and EV chargers — continue to see rapid growth, the grid has, and will continue to need to evolve into a more flexible and resilient entity. And as policy and innovation continue to drive that growth, utilities remain in the critical position of delivering reliable power to ratepayers, even as demand soars during unprecedented heat waves and cold-weather storms. Portland’s late June and July “heat domes” and extended freezing temperatures in Texas this past February demonstrate how quickly the grid can be overloaded.
In addition to action on the federal level, states have been taking steps to strengthen their grid. Colorado has stood out in this effort; earlier this summer the state passed legislation which would offer a variety of potential solutions to a morphing power grid while expanding access to renewables. The bill, Senate 261, goes a long way to expand access to DER generation and storage assets and to empower homeowners as power producers. For example, S261 allows on-site solar arrays to produce up to 200% of the annual needs of a home or business — an increase from the previous cap of 120%. The law also allows homeowners to dramatically expand the footprint of, and access to, on-site battery storage. Given the spike in on-site production, the law will allow net metering overproduction to be donated to low-income utility customers.
In addition to those solutions, the law offers increased access to meter collars for homes looking to add DERs (Distributed Energy Resources). Meter collars are plug-and-play devices that can be installed in minutes on a home’s meter, turning a traditional meter socket into the utility’s single plugin point for solar, battery storage, electric vehicles and more. The collars also help the utility to understand the effect that a growing number of DERs will have on the transmission and distribution systems, in terms of voltage regulation and power flows in both directions. Many see a home’s meter as the key to rethinking how we generate and store power; with the necessary technology for an energy transition already installed on the home, we have the tools we need to empower DERs numbering in the hundreds of millions right on the side of a home. The irony of a decades old meter being the key to our future can’t be understated or over appreciated.
Just as grid capacity will have to grow to accommodate the increasing load from electrification, DERs — especially home solar installations backed up by battery storage — will allow homeowners to become more independent of the traditional grid, without leaving it completely. The growth and opportunities created are undeniable. In fact, a 2020 report from Wood Mackenzie predicts that solar, electric vehicle infrastructure, and residential load-management potential will lead all other resources, accounting for more than 90 percent of DER capacity installed between 2016-2025, and total U.S. DER capacity will climb to 387 gigawatts by 2025.
In an age where technology has empowered individuals more than ever, electricity “prosumers” (homeowners who also produce energy) are among the key drivers of the decarbonization and decentralization of the grid. As a result, they’re creating an environment that requires all stakeholders to fundamentally rethink how the power grid is supplied with electricity. And regulators and policymakers are following suit. In addition to the aforementioned legislation in Colorado, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), proposed and passed Rule 2222, which allows DER products to compete fairly with larger, utility-owned power generation assets, and the infrastructure plan that just passed the US senate included $98 bllion in funding which would strengthen both the utility and distributed grid while incentivizing clean energy manufacturing. But we must do more — on a federal level, on the state level and at the local level — to remove barriers to utilizing our homes and our electric meters as our own, personal power plants. Distributed energy resources will lead the charge towards an energy transition, and we must ensure that policy keeps pace with innovation to ensure we truly see the transition this world desperately needs.
About the Author
Colin Mattox is head of product marketing at ConnectDER, where he leads efforts on content creation, overall messaging, campaign planning and budget management.