SETO FY2019 – Balance of Systems Soft Cost Reduction

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The Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2019 (SETO FY2019) funding program supports projects that will improve the affordability, reliability, and performance of solar technologies on the national grid. This program funds projects that reduce the non-hardware costs associated with installing solar energy systems and advance early-stage photovoltaic, concentrating solar-thermal power, and systems integration technologies.

On November 6, 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would provide $128 million in funding for 75 projects in this program. Nineteen of these projects will focus on balance of systems soft cost reduction.

Approach

Soft costs projects will work toward reducing the costs and administrative burdens associated with siting and permitting for solar and solar-plus-storage systems, as well as financing and compliance with local codes, rules, and regulations. The four subtopics focus on collaborations to reduce regulatory burdens on solar businesses, increasing the affordability of solar through innovative financing, data collection methods to assess the impacts of solar on birds, and rapid solar software development.

Objectives

Projects in this funding program will bolster innovation across the U.S and work toward the SETO 2030 cost targets. These projects will result in solutions that decrease the costs and red tape associated with installing solar and solar-plus-storage systems for new and developing solar markets.

Selectees

-- Award and cost share amounts are subject to change pending negotiations --

Collaborative Partnerships to Address Regulatory Burdens

INTERNATIONAL CITY/COUNTY MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION

Project Name: Solar@Scale: Improving the Local Rules of the Game for Large-Scale Solar
Location: Washington, DC
DOE Award Amount: $1 million
Cost Share: $300,000
Project Summary: This project team will bring together public- and private-sector stakeholders to identify best practices for local governments, special districts, and other authorities that have jurisdiction to install large-scale solar projects. They will develop tools and resources for procedures, analysis, and communications related to permitting, zoning, regulations, and planning for these installations, especially on public and municipal lands, brownfields, and in rural areas. The team will disseminate this information through workshops, trainings, and other programming.

INTERSTATE RENEWABLE ENERGY COUNCIL (1)

Project Name: Develop Consensus Recommendations to Address Challenges with Solar and Solar + Storage Code Enforcement and Permitting Approvals
Location: Albany, NY
DOE Award Amount: $1.5 million
Cost Share: $400,000
Project Summary: The Interstate Renewable Energy Council and its partners, which include the International Association of Electrical Inspectors and the International Association of Firefighters, among others, will address challenges to efficient permitting approvals by focusing on filling knowledge gaps. The team will survey stakeholders to learn what complicates code enforcement and create a regular web conference call forum for interested stakeholders to discuss issues. This project team will develop consensus recommendations that advance adoption of data-driven permitting and inspection best practices, ultimately leading to growth in new markets and cutting red tape for safe solar and solar-plus-storage projects.

INTERSTATE RENEWABLE ENERGY COUNCIL (2)

Project Name: Defining Safe and Efficient Interconnection Policies for Energy Storage and Solar + Storage to Improve Integration and Reduce Costs
Location: Albany, NY
DOE Award Amount: $1.3 million
Cost Share: $300,000
Project Summary: This project will identify and address interconnection barriers to solar and energy storage by developing best practices and technical solutions. The team will create a tool kit that will inform the development and updating of state standards and utility tariffs and use it to educate and train regulators and utilities in at least 35 states. This project will help states and utilities reduce the costs and time it takes to process applications and interconnect energy storage and solar-plus-storage systems safely, while maintaining grid reliability.

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STATE ENERGY OFFICIALS

Project Name: Enabling Solar Cybersecurity Solutions Through State Energy Office and Public Utility Commission Engagement with Private Sector Partners
Location: Arlington, VA
DOE Award Amount: $500,000
Cost Share: $100,000
Project Summary: The National Association of State Energy Officials and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners will create a solar cybersecurity working group to improve the ability to respond to cybersecurity threats related to solar energy and other distributed energy resources. The group will include state energy officials, public utility commissioners, solar industry stakeholders, cybersecurity experts, utility representatives, and others. The project team will develop an online cybersecurity tool kit to help solar industry decision-makers, regulators, utilities, and state and local governments pursue policies, plans, and partnerships for cybersecure solar infrastructure in their jurisdictions.

NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABORATORY (1)

Project Name: Addressing Regulatory Barriers to Tribal Adoption of Solar PV
Location: Golden, CO
DOE Award Amount: $1.4 million
Cost Share: $400,000
Project Summary: The laboratory team and its partners will work with Native American tribes to help address nationwide interconnection challenges and other barriers to solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar-plus-storage systems on tribal lands. The team will discuss the challenges with stakeholders and then conduct analysis and workshops to design regulatory solutions and find opportunities for solar energy on tribal lands. The team will provide technical assistance to identify ways for tribes to develop favorable contract terms and conditions, and create a guidebook with a list of options for Native American tribes across the U.S.

NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABORATORY (2)

Project Name: PV Stormwater Management Research and Testing (PV-SMaRT)
Location: Golden, CO
DOE Award Amount: $800,000
Cost Share: $200,000
Project Summary: The laboratory team and its partners will identify the co-benefits of solar facilities, specifically regarding stormwater management and water quality. The team will conduct field research on stormwater infiltration and runoff at solar installation sites; validate a model to understand, predict, and manage water resources; identify best practices for stormwater management; and engage with local jurisdictions. This project will reduce soft costs and break down regulatory barriers to solar projects.

NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABORATORY (3)

Project Name: Improving Solar and Solar + Storage Screening Techniques to Reduce Utility Interconnection Time and Costs
Location: Golden, CO
DOE Award Amount: $1 million
Cost Share: $300,000
Project Summary: The laboratory team will develop a new method for mapping secondary low-voltage circuits, which will help utilities speed up their interconnection processes for approving solar connections onto the grid. These tools will enable grid operators to improve resilience and assess their capacity for new interconnections more rapidly. The team will form an advisory board to engage with stakeholders throughout the project and disseminate the findings nationwide.

WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE

Project Name: Addressing Regulatory Burdens to Accessing Solar Among Municipal, Commercial, and Institutional Customers
Location: Washington, DC
DOE Award Amount: $600,000
Cost Share: $200,000
Project Summary: This project will help cities and towns evaluate opportunities for solar energy by training them to effectively engage in the wholesale market and utility planning processes. The team will develop educational materials for stakeholders on how wholesale markets and utility planning and accounting affect solar energy procurement, as well as convene stakeholders to potential solutions. This project will foster collaborative partnerships and enable stakeholders to share findings to break down regulatory or institutional barriers more rapidly.

Data Collection Methods to Assess Avian Impacts

ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY

Project Name: Developing a Deep Learning-Computer Vision Framework to Monitor Avian Interactions with Solar Energy Facility Infrastructure
Location: Lemont, IL
DOE Award Amount: $1.3 million
Cost Share: 300,000
Project Summary: This project will use deep learning and networks of high-definition cameras for automated detection of avian-solar interaction, specifically fly-through, perching, and collisions. The team will train the deep learning models using data from video of birds and deploy the trained models at solar facilities to validate their performance. This project could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of detecting avian collisions around solar facilities, inform mitigation strategies, and reduce monitoring costs.

ELECTRIC POWER RESEARCH INSTITUTE

Project Name: Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Light Detection and Ranging/Camera Technologies to Detect Avian Events and Other Environmental Measures at Utility-Scale Power Plants
Location: Palo Alto, CA
DOE Award Amount: $1.4 million
Cost Share: $300,000
Project Summary: This project will develop machine-learning models for monitoring birds at solar facilities using two complementary remote sensing technologies: drones and 3-D imaging. The drones will be used to detect bird carcasses and nests while simultaneously performing other site inspection tasks, and the 3-D imaging will be used to detect avian collisions. The team will develop and test both technologies in the field to compare them and validate their effectiveness and cost.

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES

Project Name: Building a Framework to Genetically Characterize “Feather Spots” and Understand Demographic Impacts of Solar Energy Sites on Migratory Bird Populations
Location: Los Angeles, CA
DOE Award Amount: $1.6 million
Cost Share: $300,000
Project Summary: This project plans to improve data on bird mortality at solar facilities by applying new genetic-based methodologies to characterize feathers recovered from solar energy facilities by species, population of origin, and individual. The resulting data will be used to develop models to evaluate the risk of solar energy facilities to specific bird populations. The results of this project can be used to develop cost-effective bird monitoring and mitigation strategies at solar facilities.

Increasing Solar Affordability Through Innovative Solar Finance

HOUSTON ADVANCED RESEARCH CENTER

Project Name: Activating Opportunity Zones for Accelerated Solar+Storage Deployment in LMI Communities
Location: The Woodlands, TX
DOE Award Amount: $500,000
Cost Share: $100,000
Project Summary: This project will develop a cost-effective solar financing program in low- to moderate-income (LMI) opportunity zones in the underserved Texas deregulated power market to accelerate    solar deployment. The project will research and develop new ownership and financing structures, leveraging opportunity zones, to increase the accessibility to solar energy among low-income communities.

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STATE ENERGY OFFICIALS

Project Name: Inclusive Shared Solar Initiative
Location: Arlington, VA
DOE Award Amount: $1 million
Cost Share: $300,000
Project Summary: In partnership with the National Energy Assistance Directors Association and the Energy Programs Consortium, this project team will bring together state agencies, utilities, solar providers, and financial institutions to pilot low-income community solar programs. This project, inspired by the New York State Solar for All program, will leverage the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), state and local incentives, and other capital funding sources to promote the development of community solar for low- to moderate-income customers.

NATIONAL RURAL ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION (1)

Project Name: Cooperatives Achieving Rural Equity in Solar
Location: Arlington, VA
DOE Award Amount: $1 million
Cost Share: $300,000
Project Summary: This project will provide models, best practices, and other materials for cooperative utilities, solar developers, and community and regional financial institutions to expand solar affordability in low- to moderate-income communities. The team will investigate solutions that will streamline customer access to solar, enable small-scale solar projects to more easily obtain the economic benefits available to larger-scale projects, and use financial mechanisms that leverage opportunity zone benefits, among other challenges. The project incorporates participation from rural electric cooperatives, community and regional financial institutions, nonprofits, foundations, solar developers, economic development agencies, and current and potential customers.

NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABORATORY (4)

Project Name: Replicate and Innovate: Pathways to Expanding Access to Solar for Income- and Credit-Challenged Customers
Location: Golden, CO
DOE Award Amount: $600,000
Cost Share: $200,000
Project Summary: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and partners will reduce barriers to solar access through innovative financing programs that serve low- to moderate-income (LMI) communities. The team will research, design, and implement flexible financial credit agreements to increase LMI customer choice and solar affordability, addressing barriers to solar adoption such as long-term contracting requirements, nontransferable solar subscriptions, low credit, and seasonal income fluctuations. 

UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

Project Name: Accessible Training and Shared Capitalization Platforms for Low-Income Solar Finance
Location: Durham, NH
DOE Award Amount: $1.2 million
Cost Share: $600,000
Project Summary: This project team will work with community finance institutions to create training programs and shared capitalization platforms that enable credit unions, community banks, and community development financial institutions to expand their engagement in solar finance in low-income communities. Completion of these web-based trainings on the tools and techniques of solar finance will yield a certificate from the University of New Hampshire. The team will strive to have at least 300 staff at community finance institutions participate in the trainings during the project period.  

Rapid Solar Software Development

NATIONAL RURAL ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION (2)

Project Name: Rapid, Rural, and Resilient Interconnect Tool Kit
Location: Arlington, VA
DOE Award Amount: $240,000
Cost Share: $60,000
Project Summary: This project will develop simplified interconnection evaluation software to help rural communities and small utilities deploy solar energy systems more easily. Solar applications are on the rise in these areas, and managing the interconnection approval process in a timely, effective manner is challenging. The tool kit will help utilities address interconnection queueing and processing.

SANDIA NATIONAL LABORATORIES (1)

Project Name: Solar Performance Insight
Location: Albuquerque, NM
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Cost Share: $75,000
Project Summary: Solar operations and maintenance providers often cannot effectively monitor photovoltaic (PV) systems because existing tools often don’t meet their needs or are cost-prohibitive. This project will deliver a lightweight, affordable, intuitive PV modeling and analytics platform to calculate performance from real data acquired by multiple data systems. This would improve efficiency among PV operations and maintenance service providers and solar contractors while lowering soft costs.

SANDIA NATIONAL LABORATORIES (2)

Project Name: Enabling Extended-Term Simulation of Power Systems with High PV Penetration
Location: Albuquerque, NM
DOE Award Amount: $350,000
Cost Share: $87,500
Project Summary: This project seeks to address the need for more accurate grid simulations that require less computation, time, and costs to produce. The team will develop dynamic grid simulation tools to support analysis of a grid with high levels of solar photovoltaic (PV) generation, advancing the power industry’s understanding of grid behavior as more renewable energy is added. The project focuses on advancements in the numerical methods used to solve the system of differential and algebraic equations that represent power systems.

Learn more about the SETO FY2019 funding program and the projects selected for the photovoltaic, concentrating solar-thermal power, systems integration, and innovations in manufacturing: hardware incubator topics.

Learn more about the solar office’s other soft costs awards.