The Arizona Public Service Company (APS) is studying the effects of large amounts of distributed photovoltaic (PV) generation by piloting a new community project in which the utility owns, maintains, and receives energy generated by solar modules installed on customer rooftops.
The “Community Power Project” aims to install solar modules on approximately 200 households in the Doney Park area of Flagstaff, Arizona, by the end of 2011. To date, more than 90 systems have been installed. While the project focuses largely on residential systems, it will also include two additional larger installations. Customers who participate in the project are able to generate solar power with no upfront or maintenance costs and will have a portion of their energy use billed at a fixed rate until April 2030.
“This project provides another solar energy option for people while helping us to better understand what solar customers want and how to best serve them,” says David Narang, the project’s principal investigator.
Customer participation allows APS to gather important data on how to better integrate PV generation equipment into utility operations and improve overall performance. In addition to testing a new utility feeder model, the project is also testing a new ownership model, examining whether such an arrangement meets customer needs as well as utility business goals, explains Michelle Lehman, a renewable energy project manager with APS.
APS was awarded $3.3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Program in 2010 to fund the research. An additional $920,000 was contributed by project partners Arizona State University (ASU), GE Energy, GE Global Research, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and ViaSol Energy Solutions.
While the APS Community Power Project provides the backbone of the research—the PV generation—Narang explains that there would be no data without the collective work products of the project partners.
For instance, ASU and GE Energy are using high-fidelity modeling techniques to assess the impact of high-penetration PV on the APS distribution feeder. GE Global Research is leading the smart inverter evaluation tasks. ViaSol Energy Solutions is responsible for the fabrication of the project’s data acquisition prototypes, while NREL is reviewing data and validating the project’s modeling solutions.
“DOE and our partners have given us the necessary platform to better understand what our Flagstaff demonstration really means by providing peer-reviewed analysis,” says Narang. “Internally, we are already using the lessons learned from the last year to rethink our existing processes and tools. And the modeling teams at ASU and GE have showed us that we need to push our boundaries when it comes to distribution systems.”
Given the state’s 300 days of sunshine per year, there are understandably high expectations for Arizona to help lead the solar revolution. According to Narang, APS has been working on expanding the role solar plays in its portfolio for several decades. Now, the utility hopes that this community project will not only create an abundance of clean energy for Flagstaff, but also stimulate the local renewable energy economy and put Flagstaff on the national map for solar technology.