The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) has announced results of a recent fact finding mission to Germany. The mission, developed by SEPA in partnership with the World Future Council and Washington State University, was the first tour of its kind to expose U.S. utility executives and managers to the success that Germany has had in its climb to become the world's leader in solar deployment.
During the five-day fact finding mission, the delegation met with German electric utilities, executives from leading photovoltaic technology companies, and visited multiple small and large scale solar installations.
U.S. utilities are increasingly interested in exploring options that will help keep pace with the growing demand for electricity and address Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) mandates and climate change concerns.
In a period of rising energy costs, solar energy is becoming an increasingly important and valued part of a responsible portfolio to help solve the growing global energy crisis.
Education, in formats such as the fact finding mission, remains a key to addressing issues surrounding integration, scalability and reliability of solar technology options for electric utilities and their customers.
During the mission, direct interaction with influencers in the German energy market allowed the U.S. utility executives a unique opportunity to gather best practices and discuss with their German counterparts many areas of interest including feed-in tariffs, associated costs for solar modules and systems, and grid integration processes.
In meetings with investor owned utilities, municipal utilities, and the Fraunhofer Institute, the delegation learned that even with high solar penetration--commonly 20 percent and as high as 30 percent--grid integration issues have not been a problem for German utilities.
Prior to the trip, the participating utilities reported that their companies on average were likely to seriously engage in solar within two to five years.
However, after exposure to the German market and seeing what is possible today without negatively affecting the power grid, participants collectively reported in a post-trip survey that serious engagement is likely to happen within the next one to two years.
"Now that these U.S. utility decision makers have seen first-hand how integration of solar is providing tangible value to German utilities and society as a whole, they can translate these examples into solar activity here in America," commented Julia Hamm, SEPA executive director and organizer of the mission.
"In the past year, there have been a significant number of utility announcements about large-scale solar projects in the U.S., but what we have seen are only the tip of the iceberg--utilities will emerge as the solar industry's largest and possibly most important customer segment."
While in Germany, the delegation spent a significant amount of time learning about the policy that has driven the solar market in that country: the Renewable Energy Act, or EEG, which is also referred to as a feed-in tariff.
The EEG guarantees each plant operator a fixed tariff for electricity generated from renewable sources which are fed into the public electricity grid.
The tariff paid is dependent on the technology used, the year the installation was put into operation, and the size of the plant. Each grid system operator is obliged to pay the statutory tariff to the plant operator.
Momentum for a feed-in style incentive structure has been gaining traction at both the national and state levels within the U.S., and the delegation was eager to learn more about the EEG's impact on the German utilities.
"Germany has established a national renewable program that has achieved impressive results in terms of the large amounts of solar deployed and innovative developments in solar technology.
The technology innovations are directly transferable to the U.S. and will facilitate the scalability and competitiveness of solar," said Roy Kuga, vice president of energy supply at Pacific Gas and Electric Company and a member of the delegation.
"The potential for solar in the U.S. is great given the higher level of solar radiation compared to Germany, and PG and E remains committed to helping realize this potential within California at competitive prices."
Regardless of geography, customer demand for solar exists in the U.S. and will continue to expand based on rising energy costs and environmental concerns. Installation and utilization of solar in states across the country is now underway and will continue to pick up speed due to an increasingly friendly regulatory environment.
Returning from the tour, Gainesville Regional Utilities' Assistant General Manager for Strategic Planning, Ed Regan, said, "Many residents in my Florida community believe we should think globally and act locally, and we believe a commitment to solar energy does just that. Local and federal incentives have lit a fire under the amount of solar activity and investment going on here."
Source - Solardaily