Washington, DC | October-09-2014 – With the solar market expected to more than double in the next few years, cutting the time and costs involved in connecting individual residential and commercial photovoltaic (PV) installations to the grid is a growing concern for utilities, regulators and solar installers.
On the utility side of the equation, the main focus is interconnection — the actual process of connecting a new installation to the grid — which, according to a new survey from the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), can take less than two weeks or more than two months.
The online survey completed by 64 utilities in 25 states across the country showed that the 17 percent currently providing online processing of interconnection applications can complete the approvals twice as fast as those still requiring customers to fill out paperwork. But, as solar installations continue to grow — one million are expected in the United States by 2017 — utilities are proactively tackling the challenges of streamlining and automating their interconnection processes.
“By streamlining interconnection processes, utilities are able to reduce demands on their own internal resources, thus saving time and money,” said Becky Campbell, SEPA’s senior research manager and co-author of the report. “Utilities also see this as an opportunity to improve their response to customer needs while contributing to the expansion of renewable energy, a goal that is common among many of the country’s utilities.”
Other key takeaways from the report:
*Residential PV installations account for the majority of utility interconnections, about 93 percent.
*More than 25 percent of the utilities surveyed reported interconnection times of less than two weeks, while more than a third may take one-two months.
*With less than 5 percent of the survey utilities processing 78 percent of the interconnection applications, both utilities and the solar industry could reap cost savings from more streamlined interconnection processing, especially as markets grow in new areas. Permitting, inspection and permitting costs for these arrays ran about 17 cents per watt in 2013, a figure expected to fall to 14 cents per watt by 2017.
*Many solar customers think utilities’ interconnection processes take too long. Their most frequent gripe, utilities report, is the lack of transparency on the status of interconnection applications.
*While less than 20 percent of utilities now process interconnections online, many are now considering it.