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Non-Wires Alternatives: Can Utilities, Consumers, and the Environment All Benefit?

A recent series of policy briefs written by the Solar Energy Industries Association examines how state-level initiatives in California and New York are paving the way for a new model of grid modernization across the country. The final installment, published recently, takes an in-depth look at Non-Wires Solutions and the opportunities they provide for distributed generation implementation. Non-Wires Solutions (NWS), also known as Non-Wires Alternatives (NWA), are an important piece of the grid modernization effort that isn’t yet well understood by most consumers.

Non-Wire Alternatives Raise the Bar

As we’ve previously explored, utility companies would prefer to invest consumer’s money in propping up the existing energy infrastructure rather than making improvements that might ultimately reduce their profit margins, such as allowing more distributed energy resources (DER) access to the grid. But SEIA writes that NWA or NWS “allow utilities to defer or avoid conventional infrastructure investments by procuring distributed energy resources... that are lower cost and have lower emissions while maintaining or improving system reliability and resilience.” This compromise is more palatable to utility companies while also moving grid modernization efforts forward.

Non-Wires Alternatives aren’t new. In fact, the SEIA report reveals that “since 1991, over 130 NWS projects” in states like California, New York, and Oregon, “have been identified, planned, or implemented... surpassing 2 GW of total capacity.” Notable examples include the Brooklyn/Queens Demand Management (BQDM) Project, which replaced the need for an incredibly costly substation upgrade, and Southern California Edison's (SCE) Preferred Resources Pilot (PRP), which uses distributed energy resources to provide for increasing energy demands. “In both cases,” SEIA notes, “the utilities solicited DER to fill capacity needs and maintain or improve grid reliability through a portfolio of distributed energy resources, including solar, storage, and demand response.”

The success of these projects has prompted a growing trend and encouraged utility companies in states across the country to consider Non-Wires Solutions in their infrastructure planning. Is this a sign of upcoming technology adoption that can provide benefits to utilities, consumers, and the environment alike?

The Benefits of Non-Wires Alternatives

Solar Power World, reporting on the new policy brief, quotes Smart Electric Power Alliance executive vice president Tanuj Deora as saying “As the cost of new technologies continues to decline, and the power industry becomes increasingly sophisticated, opportunities are growing for non-wires solutions to deliver economic, environmental and individual consumer benefits.” Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of NWS is the opportunity for so many parties to benefit from their implementation. The SEIA outlines many of these benefits.

First, consumer ratepayers benefit from a reprieve in the escalation of utility costs, which have been steadily rising as utilities seek the revenue to pay for expensive (but backward-looking) grid maintenance and upgrades. SEIA notes that through NWAs, “DER providers will be able to offer solutions to meet utility needs that may otherwise be met through additional distribution grid infrastructure investments at a fraction of the cost.” They also benefit from increased choices and the ability to adopt technologies that increase energy efficiency.

In addition, both utility companies and consumers benefit from the increased grid resiliency offered by NWAs through reduced outages and expensive repairs. “Enhanced grid planning and the availability of NWS will allow utilities to better forecast and cost-effectively prevent outages or power quality issues that may occur,” the SEIA writes.

Finally, the environment (and all of us who live in it) benefits from greater adoption of alternative energy technologies that reduce the amount of fossil fuels being consumed by traditional power plants. And when these plants pollute the atmosphere less, it benefits the marginalized communities in which most plants are located. “NWS will play an important role in cleaning up our grid,” SEIA predicts, “and helping drive the oldest, dirtiest, and often most expensive plants off the system.”

When opportunities for the proliferation of alternative energy and distributed energy resources are created, we all benefit. At Solar Design Studio, we advocate for consumer choice and a cleaner energy future by providing our residential and industrial clients with a full range of solar options and ensuring the greatest return on their investment (in both financial and environmental terms).

To learn more about how we can help you meet your energy needs and move towards a reliable, sustainable energy future, contact us today!

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