Distributed renewable energy generation—particularly solar PV—has grown dramatically in the last few years, but developers continue to be obstructed by soft costs and implementation barriers. The federal government is already working to address this problem through DOE’s Sunshot Initiative—partially by encouraging utilities and local governments to streamline their solar permitting and approval processes—but there is more that it can do to improve the prospects for solar DG. One easy way to act is by requiring utilities to report information about distribution grid attributes and making that data publicly available to developers.
Interconnecting a DG system is not straightforward, and larger projects can put a considerable strain on the distribution grid. Unfortunately, developers have little information about the specific attributes of the grid at a given site (e.g. the peak load, short circuit interrupting capacity, or maximum fault current on a given line segment). This causes delays in the implementation process, as developers may not discover that their proposed project is too large for a given location until they have completed a costly interconnection study.
My wishlist dataset is a series of town- or utility-specific shapefiles of local distribution networks that include these and other relevant attributes. This data would give developers the information they need to site their projects appropriately and avoid costly delays. This data could be collected by augmenting the federal government’s existing utility reporting requirements, such as by expanding EIA Form 861.
California provides several examples of how useful this information can be. For its Feed-in Tariff program, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District developed a map of the maximum generation capacity that could be connected to the grid in different parts of the utility’s service area (http://bit.ly/18198eR), part of the reason why SMUD’s interconnection processes have been recognized as an industry best practice (http://bit.ly/1exMnOB). California’s IOUs also make some distribution data public (for example, http://bit.ly/bQpeE1). In my prior work, I mapped this IOU data on behalf of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to demonstrate the value it holds for project developers (http://bit.ly/1aegINH).
Making this information publicly available on a broader scale would dramatically improve developers’ ability to navigate an uncertain interconnection process and would open the door for more distributed, smarter grid. The federal government is in a position to take an industry best practice and make it standard by requiring that distribution utilities report information about individual grid line sections, and then by making that data available to the public.