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

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

In our ongoing series of articles about grid modernization and distributed energy resources, we’ve explored the pressing need for improved energy infrastructure in the United States that supports consumer choices when it comes to alternative energy sources like solar and wind power. The current grid, mostly unchanged over the course of the last century, has revealed itself to be an unstable, inefficient, and costly solution for meeting consumer’s power needs. The development of alternative energy technologies (and their falling prices) has given consumers more choices, but utility companies have been reluctant to compromise their profits by creating a more open, accessible grid. It’s time for them to catch up.

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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What Our Clients Are Saying

I have researched adding PV to my home for several years and have met with several PV providers in the KC area and they tend to fall into two broad categories, the new and low budget operators who got into this to ride the wave and are not that knowledgeable, and the commercial providers who have little interest in working with a homeowner and are geared to providing a much larger system where some economy of scale must come into play. Both my wife and I are architects and we wanted something different and it was challenging to find someone who was interested in doing something out of the ordinary. Neither or those types were interested in working with us as we were trying to create something a bit different. they each wanted to sell us their pre-configured solutions.

 

Fortunately we found Bob Solger. He has been a delight to work with and is incredibly knowledgeable and responsive. We wanted to create a solar carport that would provide cover and protection for our cars, but would also provide shade over part of our patio. In essence, the big idea was to create an outdoor pavilion, when, if we wanted to entertain we could move the cars out of the way and have a large covered area for an outdoor gathering. We had selected the Lumos brand of solar panels as they have a very clean look and are partially transparent so some light filters through the panels creating a mottled light pattern on the ground, similar to the shading from a tree. In addition, the system is set up to hide the majority of the connecting wires in the support beams so when you look up at the underside of the PV roof you see a very clean look. Bob recognized our goal and worked with us to ensure the project’s success. Bob identified a structural engineer to design an elegant support structure and found a fabricator to build it affordably. Finally he connected us with a contracting team to clear the space, provide the footings, retaining walls, and pad, who were every bit as careful with everything as you would hope. They were amazingly accommodating to every request and understood that there were a lot of competing challenges that needed to be resolved so we could fit this all in to a very tight location and make it look like it belongs.

 

The bottom line is that it all turned out better than we could have hoped and while it did cost more than the low ball bids received from some of the low budget operators, it was less than the commercially focused suppliers, and more importantly we got the design we wanted and a well-constructed PV carport that will give us great delight for years to come. The best part is of course the savings on our electric bill, which thus far has been averaging around $200/month. So not only do we have a new carport and entertainment patio that our neighbors have been stopping by and admiring (which given that we live in the older Brookside neighborhood and our PV carport is quite modern, we were much relieved) but, our electric bills have been in the under $10/month range.

 

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Bob and his knowledge and team for helping to create an amazing PV carport for us. I’m sure you would be delighted with whatever you engage him to help you with.

Dev & Sue Malik

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