We get very excited about the idea of a next-generation approach to power markets that takes full advantage of the suite of clean energy technologies available (what can we say, we’re electricity geeks). We want solar and renewables to work with storage, demand response, conservation and smart grid to repower our system with affordable, reliable, low-carbon electricity. Last Thursday, we took one step closer to that vision in California.

The California Public Utilities Commission issued a decision that will make it significantly easier for energy customers to pair their solar system with an energy storage device. In its Final Decision in the Net Energy Metering Paired Storage proceeding, the Commission decided to allow solar customers who add energy storage to continue to qualify for the standard net metering program, and exempting these customers from burdensome interconnection fees, standby charges and metering requirements.  Responding to recommendations from Vote Solar and other parties, the Commission also required utilities to refund customers who were inappropriately charged these fees over the past year. Put this down as a win for California energy customers and a cleaner grid!

Under the newly adopted rules, customers with energy storage devices 10 kW or smaller will not be required to size the storage to meet either their maximum load or the maximum solar output.  Furthermore, these customers, which includes a significant number of residential and some smaller commercial customers, are now exempt from having to install costly and unnecessary utility-grade meters and can instead rely on the estimated output.  The Commission will issue a separate ruling to determine the precise method for making estimates, but customers with paired storage can still qualify to participate in the net metering program now.

Customers who install energy storage devices larger than 10 kW must limit their storage system size to no more than 150% of the maximum output of their solar system.  These customers must also install more accurate meters, subject to a $600 cost cap for all but the most complex metering configurations.  Anyone who installs larger storage devices with output greater than the 150% limit qualifies under the existing net metering Multiple Tariff schedules, which exposes them to additional costs and potential distribution system upgrades.

The decision is a significant milestone for both solar energy and energy storage.  Prior to the decision, utilities have interpreted language from a recent update to the California Energy Commission (CEC) Renewables Portfolio Standard Eligibility Guidebook in a way that made it difficult and expensive for solar owners to add storage under the standard net metering tariff.  The Commission’s decision clears away those unfair roadblocks and opens the door to a new era for clean energy supporters.

Storage paired with solar addresses many of the concerns utilities have about the intermittency of PV and allows solar customers to provide more value to the grid. For example, a solar customer can store clean energy produced during the daytime and discharge it to the grid in the evening when most people are coming home, turning on their air conditioners and driving up demand for energy.   It’s a pretty simple concept, but a real game-changer for clean energy.

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Vote Solar is a non-profit grassroots organization working to fight climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream.

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