> FOCUS EXPLOSIVE GROWTH ON THE WAY?
heavily on solar-plus-storage, could become
the new norm for homes in that state in
the coming years. The CPUC and the California Energy Commission (CEC) have
launched a “New Residential Zero Net Energy
Action Plan,” with the goal of building a self-sustaining energy market, such that all new homes in the state
would be ZNE by 2020. ZNE facilities are defined as those that
produce as much energy as they consume, usually through a
mix of high-efficiency design; clean, on-site generation (such as
solar); and energy storage (such as batteries). The state expects
to see more than 10,000 new ZNE homes by 2017 and substantially more by 2019 and 2020.
The electrical contracting industry is becoming more aware of
DER’s potential as a source of work. In early 2015, for example,
construction began on the Renewable Energy Training Field
(RETF) a 250-acre, on-site facility. It is designed to provide
training to electricians and provide support to ECs for renewable smart-grid applications, including industrial, commercial,
municipal and residential applications of solar and wind.
The facility opened in September 2015. It features a 100-k W
bidirectional inverter that charges a 45 kilowatt-hour (k Wh)
lithium-ion battery system and a 45 k Wh lead-acid battery, a
45-k W fixed-tilt ground-mount PV system that simulates a
utility installation, an 18-k W solar carport with four electric
vehicle (EV) charging stations, a 10-k W roof-mounted solar-power system with monitoring, a 5-k W Bergey wind turbine,
a 4-k W solar-power system on a standing-seam metal roof, a
4-k W solar-power system on a composite shingle roof, and a
3-k W solar-power system with a dual-axis tracker and Enphase
microinverters. It also features a 100-foot cell tower for climbing and mounting antennae, a 75-foot miniature turbine and a
60-foot tower to practice working with wind turbines.
Individual contractors are getting involved, too. One example is PDE Total Energy Solutions, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.,
formerly Pacific Data Electric, which first got involved in battery storage in 1992 and then added expertise in renewable
energy and microgrids in 2010.
Currently, microgrids represent the largest share of the
company’s business relating to these three specialty areas.
(PDE has installed 10 microgrids and is in the pricing/planning
stages of even more for three additional clients/prospects.)
“Grid-connected microgrids are the future of energy
design,” said Dan Henrich, PDE president. “Advancements
in technology and connectivity are enabling energy users and
producers to take an active role in the energy marketplace.”
Whether producing or consuming electricity, according
to Henrich, the availability of real-time data, combined with
third-party intelligence, helps to optimize energy production.
There are challenges, however.
“The equipment is new, and Technology
Readiness Level is not always ready for mass
deployment,” Henrich said.
For example, some PDE system designs,
such as those for a Caribbean desalination plant
microgrid, are the first of their kind in the world.
“Lessons are learned, and engineering challenges are realized after deployment,” he said.
Second, advanced control systems with complex algorithms
must be predictive and be analyzed for performance.
“Once an analysis is done, engineers and programmers must
make parameter changes to constantly optimize the microgrid,”
A third challenge is a shortage of controls engineers and
technicians with deep expertise in power electronics, batteries
“There is a need for government policies to better support
the free-market conditions allowing distributed energy to
flourish,” he said. “Net-metering policies and compensation
need to improve.”
The future of DER
“DER is on the rise,” Henrich said. “As more consumers, businesses and utilities increase DER, consumers and utilities can
both benefit by reduced peak energy needs. All of this points to
additional opportunities for the electrical construction industry.”
Sprig Electric, San Jose, Calif., is also getting involved in DER.
“Since renewable-energy produces power, it will always be
a strong part of the mix,” said Michael Clifton, engineering/
operations manager for Sprig Electric’s Energy Efficiency Division. Clifton anticipates that solar/wind, battery storage, and
microgrids will be a part of the mix, as each can be of benefit
in different areas.
Clifton, like Henrich, also sees some complications.
“One of the challenges is working in a stable environment
of costs and incentives,” Clifton said. “Unpredictable incentives
make long-term planning difficult and risky. Workers can be
trained as a technology ramps up.”
However, he said it is important to be able to have a steady
flow of work in order to use this trained workforce.
Marketing is another challenge.
“Getting the word out that we now have a new expertise
under our belt takes some time,” Clifton said. “We are engaged
in reaching out to our long-term clients and customers, and educating them that we can now offer solar/storage technologies, in
addition to our usual palette of electrical, data, and service work.
“[ECs] are being asked to install these new technologies at
an ever-increasing rate. Having a good understanding of these
technologies is essential to being successful,” he said.
ATKI NSON has been a full-time business magazine writer since
1976. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. N E