DistribuTECH Highlights Growing Importance of Utility/Solar Partnerships

Next week thousands of utility executives and energy industry stakeholders will flock to New Orleans to participate in DistribuTECH 2019 — a show predominantly for distribution utilities — and for the first time, a handful of solar equipment companies will be among the hundreds of exhibitors in the exhibit hall.

The growing interest in solar on the part of utilities is no surprise to those following the renewable energy industry — the technology has grown enormously over the past decade and in some hot markets, distributed /residential solar has begun disrupting utility operations. Indeed, DistribuTECH has entire tracks devoted to DER (distributed energy resource) Management and Control, Energy Storage, Smart Cities, and Disruptive, Emerging and Innovative Technologies.

We wanted to know what solar equipment companies, Canadian Solar, JinkoSolar and Shoals, see as the future of solar for distribution utilities. Read on to hear their thoughts on the matter.

DTECH: What questions do you think utilities still have about the best way to incorporate solar onto their grids?

Jeff Juger, Director of Business Development, JinkoSolar: Utilities might be confused by the number of solar module technology options available today.  Utilities might also be concerned about buyers of distributed solar and how much power it feeds into the grid, as well as the incremental value of continued solar deployments. 

Robert Weber, Director of Utility Solutions, Canadian Solar: The questions we get most frequently from utilities come from concerns around the investment and long-term viability of solar power plants.  From smaller utilities, where microgrids are a factor, or where there is a high penetration of solar and other renewable energy, then there is also the question of how to integrate those renewables into a reliable, resilient grid with storage and other forms of backup power.

DTECH: How do you respond to those questions?

Juger, JinkoSolar: Guaranteed monofacial power from brands who have serviced the U.S. market for many years and have weathered the various market shocks are the best and most bankable bet to protect your investment long term.  As the solar resource grows, utilities should consider storage to enhance solar and save themselves money by deferring transmission and capacity upgrades. 

Weber, Canadian Solar: We have expanded to be not only an equipment supplier but a full-service supplier, offering EPC/EPCM and O&M services to our customers to minimize the LCOE of these new solar plants.  Everything we offer, from modules built to the most stringent quality standards to asset management services, is designed to make sure that solar power plant owners get the full 25+ year value out of their investment.  Working in partnership with utilities and solar plant owners helps us back the designs, make sure they are running at peak performance and we learn from these points to help in future plant designs.  Regarding grid integration of renewables, that is where Canadian Renewable Energy Laboratory (CANREL) offers an essential service – hardware and software simulation of microgrids, smartgrids, and grid-connected microgrids.  At our CANREL facility in Ontario, Canada, we have programmable load controllers, smart meters, smart controllers, wind turbine, PV solar installation, wind and solar simulators, Li-ion battery storage system, EV chargers and remote internet access. It provides a test bed for utilities to test their microgrid/smart grid/grid modernization solutions.

DTECH: Thinking about large-scale solar VS solar as a DER, where do you see solar making a bigger impact in the coming years? Why?

Juger, JinkoSolar: Solar is immensely popular with the public, so distributed solar will continue to grow; however, the utility solar market should continue to account for more than 50% of the overall market over the next few years due to favorable PPA prices.  For example, utilities in the southeast who have historically been slower to adopt solar are now rapidly adding solar because solar prices are more competitive and more predictable than natural gas prices. 

Weber, Canadian Solar: This all depends on the market you are looking at. For example, in California, Arizona, & Texas, these markets have embraced the larger scale plants.  (It helps that there are large areas of open land.)  If you look at a region like Hawaii they have more residential and commercial DER type systems.  This has its issues just like other grid designs, again this is all based on the market, grid and environmental landscape.

DTECH: As a first-time exhibitor at DistribuTECH, why did you decide to exhibit at the show?

Juger, JinkoSolar: Our brand is the most chosen solar module brand in utility, and we want utilities to understand our full capabilities and our brand promise.  We want new utilities to understand how to procure solar successfully.  JinkoSolar is also completing its module assembly factory in Jacksonville, Florida and wants the industry to learn more about our operations there.  

Weber, Canadian Solar: We want to reach out to utilities and other long-term power plant owners and tell them the benefits of the Canadian Solar complete systems solution.  We also want to reach out to utilities to introduce them to CANREL, a unique laboratory and testing environment for ensuring the reliability of their grids and microgrids with a high penetration of renewable-energy.

DTECH: What is the number one thing you’d like to tell the utility industry about solar right now?

Weber, Canadian Solar: Solar has become competitive as an energy source for North America, with that we are moving into the mature stage of the buying and engineering cycle.  At the same time, we at Canadian Solar are maturing and expanding to become a full service and product supplier to the industry.  You may know us best as a module supplier, but we also provide inverters, other balance of system components, and services like turnkey EPC, asset management, and O&M services. We also host the Canadian Renewable Energy Laboratory (CANREL), which provides microgrid and smartgrid simulation and testing services for grid operators large and small.

Juger, JinkoSolar: Utility-scale solar projects are competitive with natural gas and are bankable because of modules like Jinko, the most debt-financed solar module brand in utility over the last 3 years.  

DTECH: What are you hoping to gain from the attending the event?

Juger, JinkoSolar: We would like to network with people from utilities we have worked with and introduce Jinko to those who are seeking more information about renewables.  We also want to see what other innovations are out there.  Ideally, we learn more about the challenges utilities face, so we can craft the products and solutions to help them generate affordable electricity for their customers. 

Weber, Canadian Solar: We are always looking for long-term partners who want to ensure that their solar investments have the lowest possible LCOE and their grids operate with the highest reliability.  Let us show you how we Make the Difference at Canadian Solar!

There’s still time to register and make your travel plans to attend DistribuTECH in New Orleans. The event takes place February 5-7, 2019.
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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com

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