Solar Builder

JAN 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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44 JA N UA RY / F E B RUA RY 2 0 1 8 L and in any airport, and the view tells the story. Commercial buildings with fresh paint and no solar panels on them yet. Residential customers may commit to solar for a variety of personal and ethical reasons, but nonresidential property owners tend toward the pragmatic. They make business decisions based on profits. This historically lagging solar segment is starting to come around though. In the Q3 2017 U.S. Solar Market Insight report from GTM Research, which showed a 22 percent decline for the overall industry year over year, also showed that nonresidential solar grew 22 percent, installing 481 MW. The business is out there. The installers who present solutions based on a clear understanding of nonresidential energy costs can build momentum in what may turn out to be the largest solar segment of all. Utility tariff structures Commercial and industrial customers have complex energy needs that go far beyond a simple "go / no-go" decision for a solar project. In particular, these customers pay much of their electricity bill in the form of demand charges. These charges can be quite complex, featuring "ratchets" and other calculations resulting in very high charges that can last for many months after a simple error in operations. In many util- ity service territories, demand charges comprise more than one-third of the customer's elec- tricity bill; in a few, it's more than one-half. In addition to rising demand charges, changes in time-of-use (TOU) rate structures in many states have customers scram- bling for solutions. While there is no doubt that solar can deliver significant energy savings to a nonresidential customer, a tradi- tional solar installation provides little or no reduction in demand charges for most accounts, nor any control over the time of day when energy is consumed. A solar installation that delivers big energy savings may result in little or no demand savings. As shown in Figure 1, a single cloud at the wrong time on the wrong day can wipe out a month's worth of savings. Without appropriate demand management technology, net load can "spike" to create a new month- ly peak demand. Solar providers are increasingly finding that when they propose new projects to their nonresidential customers, these customers are more informed and sophisticated about their energy needs. Odds are good that a storage provider has already come calling to see if a bat- tery system could help with TOU rates and demand charges, but batteries are still very expensive, and in states without significant subsidies, they often don't pencil out on their own, either. In our interviews with solar professionals this past summer, we were told over and over that because of changes in the market, "it's time to get off the roof and come inside." Until a solar provider has a more complete picture of a customer's energy needs — their energy usage patterns and the business needs driving those patterns — that provider is competing at a disadvantage. In reality, any solar solution needs to be presented in the context of these usage patterns and needs. From Tesla cars to Gigafactories, there is a lot of news about bat- tery storage, and as battery costs continue dropping, some smart solar providers are exploring becoming solar-plus-storage providers. In some states with high incentives for batteries (and with some clever use of the Investment Tax Credit), this can be a good combination. In many cases, load flexibility is both more valuable and less expen- Context Clues Know where to find the value when selling commercial solar solutions By John T. Powers Figure 1: Solar Plus Demand Management, Office Building, July 2015

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