Solar Builder

SEP-OCT 2018

Solar Builder focuses on the installation/construction of solar PV systems. We cover the latest PV technology (modules, mounting, inverters, storage, BOS) and equip installers/contractors with tips and tools to make informed purchasing decisions.

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34 S E P T E M B E R / O C TO B E R 2 0 1 8 S olar customer data is increasingly being used for quantifiable savings by solar installers, devel- opers, energy arbitrators and utilities. The soft- ware companies special- ized in gathering and aggregating this data on residential, commercial and industrial levels are also building more functional systems that will help to standardize energy efficiency and asset management platforms, benefi- cial for all levels of data use. Solar data usage is contingent on cus- tomers' willingness to share their data with the local utility, which is no small hurdle for the industry, suggests Matt Kuo, the vice president of product at Atlanta-based Urjanet. "Initiatives like Green Button are great, but adoption has not been as rapid as many people expect- ed. That's why we exist," he says. The Green Button initiative is "an industry-led effort that responds to a White House call-to-action to provide utility customers with easy and secure access to their energy usage information in a consumer-friendly and computer- friendly format," according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). While such standards are slow to emerge, companies like Urjanet and UtillityAPI independently contact users for data sharing permission, aggregate and clean the data, and often manage the utility-to-customer-to-developer inter- face. Urjanet, which launched its solar-spe- cific service, Utility Data for Solar, in May, has access to residential and com- mercial energy usage, cost and location data from more than 750 electric utilities in over 15 countries, Kuo says. By offer- ing on-demand, accurate and complete energy usage, cost and location data from more than 900 utilities, Utility Data for Solar aims to bring an automated, streamlined process to existing and emerging solar markets worldwide. Solar installers typically spend a lot of time analyzing utility data for a potential residential customer, drawing on historic usage, rate thresholds and grid connec- tion scenarios. With access to a solar data service, this information can be delivered rapidly and at a low cost, says Daniel Roesler, the co-founder, CEO and CTO of UtilityAPI. His company provides comprehensive data on a single meter for a mere $15 one-time charge, with ongo- ing meter reads at $2 each. "We only charge if we can get the data back within 24 hours," he says. "With utility data on the backend, a solar installer can access a prospect's actual address, electric usage, costs and tariff," Kuo says. "This means that, before even sending someone to the property for a site visit, the installer can assess system size, project customer ROI and determine whether they're a good candidate for solar. With this information in hand, installers can expect more efficient sales cycles and, ultimately, higher revenue." On the commercial side, solar develop- ers not only need to present a cost/bene- fit analysis to potential customers, but also to analyze the feasibility of a low- cost grid connection, dependent on data about local substations and other utility infrastructure. "We've done about 200 commercial applications over the last four years, yet the number of projects that are actually getting through utility review is only about five percent," says Tim McDuffie, the director of engineering at CalCom Solar, based in Visalia, Calif. Merging residential and C&I custom- ers into a community solar development can be even more challenging without detailed solar data and grid availability knowledge. Since community solar proj- ects often include energy storage — if not grid service arbitrage — historic information is needed to launch the proj- ect, and ongoing data is needed to man- age it. "We can pull in ongoing utility data for a customer, match it with performance data and calculate true savings — not some savings estimate. This is especially necessary for battery systems," Roesler says. "Then for the asset management side, our data reporting can be fed into their performance analytics for real-time report- ing and future action recommendations." Working with regulators As distributed energy resources prolif- erate, utilities increasingly must balance decisions about future infrastructure investments as they transition from elec- tricity generators to wires-and-poles companies. Both regulations and soft- ware advances will help in the broader use and analysis of solar data. California's Public Utilities Commission, for example, is now study- ing a ground-breaking set of regulations for demand response providers that even- "WE CAN PULL IN ONGOING UTILITY DATA FOR A CUSTOMER, MATCH IT WITH PERFORMANCE DATA AND CALCULATE TRUE SAVINGS — NOT SOME SAVINGS ESTIMATE."

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