Column: Illuminating the future of solar energy

By Bradley C. Jones

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A quick look across the energy landscape shows we’re in a period of exciting innovation. Here at the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), our grid operations and electricity markets are changing to address public policy goals while continuing to meet the needs of consumers and rigorous electric system reliability requirements.

How people think about and use electricity is changing as quickly as the technology that generates and delivers it. Consumers are taking advantage of various smaller scale distributed energy resources and new technologies are challenging the traditional model of centralized power generation. There also is a great deal of focus on how we reliably integrate additional renewable resources.

NYISO’s competitive electricity markets have helped grow renewable energy, placing New York at the forefront of public policy initiatives to further develop clean energy resources. We are a leader in wind power integration and we’re now applying that success to solar energy.

While distributed energy resources include an array of technologies and systems, customer-sited solar photovoltaic (solar PV) is among the fastest-growing segments. A state government initiative, NY-Sun, calls for the installation of more than 3,000 megawatts of customer-sited solar capacity by 2023.

According to a report by the New York State Department of Public Service, applications received by utilities for solar PV installations have increased from 1,200 in 2010 to more than 11,000 last year. As rooftop solar resources grow, their impact on peak demand and annual energy usage in New York is expected to triple by 2026.

While there is only one “grid-scale” solar installation in New York today, the pending development of larger solar arrays also will influence the future of the electric system. The 32-megawatt Long Island Solar Farm at Brookhaven National Laboratory is the largest solar power plant in the Eastern United States, but another 233 megawatts of generating capacity from grid-scale solar projects are currently proposed for interconnection with New York’s power grid.

Electric system reliability requires continuously balancing the amount of expected demand on the system with available power supplies. The magnitude of this challenge increases in proportion to the amount of intermittent resources like solar PV and wind that are on the system.

Recently the NYISO published a study that examines a number of grid operation needs presented by these resources. The report, “Solar Impact on Grid Operations — An Initial Assessment,” examines the potential for growth in solar power, the impact of increasing intermittent resources on grid operations and forecasting issues that must be addressed to make effective use of solar resources in the future.

Our study finds the New York electric system can reliably manage the increased variability in supply and demand associated with the solar PV and wind penetration levels studied — up to 4,500 megawatts of wind and 9,000 megawatts of solar PV. To manage these fluctuations, grid operators must ensure generators can provide adequate amounts of “regulation service” to correct for changes in electricity use affecting the stability of the power system.

Large-scale implementation of behind-the-meter solar PV also will impact our load profile and system operations. Although these impacts may be mitigated in the future by on-site storage technology, the study recommends that we devise and incorporate accurate solar forecasting as soon as practicable. Similar to our pioneering work in the area of wind forecasting, we began evaluating potential solar forecasting systems earlier this year and we are on track to have a system in place by the summer of 2017.

Electric power systems are dynamic and are affected by factors that change each second, minute, hour, day, season and year. Despite continuous change, the balance between the available supply of generation and demand must be maintained in each and every time frame of operation.

More change is coming as New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision program is identifying regulatory changes and market developments intended to facilitate a larger role for distributed energy resources in the Empire State.

Change is constant, that’s clear. And New York is on the cutting edge of this new energy future. Our grid operations and electricity markets are adapting to these changes while achieving the goals of clean, affordable and reliable energy.

Bradley C. Jones is president and CEO of the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), a private, not-for-profit entity that operates New York’s high-voltage power grid and manages competitive wholesale electricity markets.

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