Grid Reliability: Mitigating Risks and Maximizing Solar Benefits

Tuesday, January 19 saw a packed Main Hearing Room and a full suite of Oregon Public Utility Commissioners listen intently to out-of-state experts discuss the reliability impacts of solar. The running theme was the ability for smart inverters to mitigate risks and maximize benefits so that solar contributes to grid reliability.

Debbie Lew from GE Energy Consulting discussed challenges and opportunities from around the world at both low and high solar penetrations. As Europe figured out the hard way, having gigawatts of solar on the grid that is programmed to trip out when grid frequency begins to drop (for example when a large generator fails) can turn a manageable challenge into a blackout crisis. Dr. Lew concluded that Oregon had a huge opportunity to piggy-back on the developing smart inverter market and set interconnections requirements that would enable solar to support the grid.

Hawaiian Electric's VP of Energy Delivery, Colton Ching, then presented lessons learned from the Aloha State's solar journey. Ching concluded that ultimately distributed solar is a matter of customer choice. Given that, his message to the state was that there is a great opportunity for Oregon to get ahead of the curve by integrating solar at both the distribution and system level, making it a grid asset and maximizing its value.

Oregon's Investor Owned Utilities presented their concerns about the impact of solar on reliability, with a focus on their inability to control the resource. Given the preceding presentations from GE and Hawaii, Commission Chair Ackerman wanted to know what our utilities were all doing to get ahead of the curve. Ryan Hanley from SolarCity finished up by addressing many of the concerns raised by local utilities, citing similar issues that had been encountered and resolved in other states. Hanley concluded by comparing Oregon's penetration of solar (about 0.6%) to that of Hawaii's (about 10%), again highlighting the opportunity for our state to make polices—such as requiring smart inverters—that allow us to enable solar to contribute to reliability.

The information presented at this workshop will inform the Commission as it considers the Solar Resource Value more broadly as part of the epic docket UM 1716.