Clean Power solar california

Published on July 2nd, 2012 | by John Farrell


Overturning the ‘15% Rule’ Can Expand Distributed Generation

July 2nd, 2012 by  


If you haven’t heard yet, there’s a “rule” that precludes distributed renewable energy projects from supplying more than 15% of the power to most “distribution circuits” (part of the low-voltage electric grid that brings power into homes and businesses). With the rapidly falling cost of solar power, many places in the country are starting to push up against this limit.

So, there’s good news recently in California, where the state’s investor-owned utilities agreed to raise this somewhat arbitrary limit and accept more distributed generation.

The process of setting the rule is almost comical, although the rationale isn’t. Utilities want to be sure that during a power failure (from the grid), local distributed generators can’t accidentally power the local grid enough to zap repair crews who would expect the lines they’re repairing to be dead. Good idea.

But the margin for safety was rather ridiculous. Let’s assume a given portion of the grid needs 100 megawatts of power at maximum.  Utilities looked for the typical “daytime minimum” (e.g. the least power used during daylight hours) and found that it was about 30% of that peak; in this case, 30 megawatts (probably around 6 AM). Then they divided by two: 15 megawatts or a 15% rule.

But this “rule” has two major problems:

  • Distributed solar produces its peak power at noon, when there is far more demand on the system than at 6 AM. So, limiting a circuit to 15 MW of solar capacity because that’s half the daytime minimum vastly overestimates the amount of solar that will be on the system relative to demand. In fact, minimum demand at noon is generally around 50% of the peak, not 30%.
  • Advanced electronics and inverters enable a solar array to shut off in the event of “islanding” (when the utility grid fails), minimizing the chance of accidental shock.

The Clean Coalition and its partners in California successfully fought the utilities on this issue. Here’s a short summary from their newsletter:

The proposed settlement would Fast Track interconnection of DG projects up to 100% of coincidental minimum load, and this new standard will result in as much as a threefold increase in the level of DG penetration allowed in Fast Track.  Under the previous arbitrary 15% peak load limit, DG projects only generating 30-50% of coincidental minimum load were eligible for Fast Track.  The [California Public Utilities Commission] is expected to approve the settlement by mid-summer [2012].

Well done!

This post originally appeared on ILSR’s Energy Self-Reliant States blog.

Photo Credit: Great Valley Center (Attribution Some rights reserved) 
Get CleanTechnica’s 1st (completely free) electric car report → “Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want.”
Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.


Tags: , , , , , ,

About the Author

directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

  • yoshhash

    In Ontario, they are enforcing an even more ridiculous 7% rule.

  • Ross

    Excellent news. Is this a first? I imagine this battle will have to be refought many times but each time victory will be easier.

  • JMin2020

    This is a rather comical situation. I would think the islanding could actually be improved dramaticaly with a smart grid system eliminating all possibility of repaiman injury. If only the people involved were as smart as the grid would be; we could utilize all renewable energy sources at their best performing times to insure maximum utilization of the miscellaneous technologies in use today and well into the future as well. This would also allow for a far lower need for storage to maintaine peark performance; while increasing the actual ammount of renewables that could replace less efficient and higher polluting systems used to maintain the baseload.

Back to Top ↑
  • Advertisements

  • Top Posts & Pages

  • Cool Cleantech Events

    Low Voltage Electrification Event, April 25-27. Detroit, Michigan (US)
    Delve deep into the benefits and challenges associated with EV power supply.

    Offshore Wind Market Development USA, May 11-12, Boston, Massachusetts (US)
    Network and establish your business in one of North America’s largest energy industries.

    Energy Storage USA, June 15-16, San Diego, California (US)
    Only event in the United States focused exclusively on the commercialization of storage.

    More details are on: Cleantech Events.

  • Advertisement

  • CleanTechnica Electric Car Report

    Electric Cars Early Adopters First Followers
  • Tesla Model 3 Review by EVANNEX

    Tesla Model 3 Review from EVANNEX
  • Tesla Model 3 Exclusive Video

    Tesla Model 3 Video
  • Tesla Model 3 Exclusive Pictures

    Tesla Model 3 Video
  • Tesla Model X Review #1 (Video)

    Tesla Model X Review from new owners Zach Shahan
  • Tesla Model X Review #2 (Pictures)

    Tesla Model X Review from Kyle Field
  • Tesla Model S Long-Term Review

    Tesla Model S Long Term Review from Kyle Field
  • Nissan LEAF Long-Term Review

    Nissan LEAF Long Term Review from Cynthia Shahan
  • Interview with Michael Liebreich

    Interview with Michael Liebreich
  • Interview with Akon (Teslas & Solar)

    Interview with Akon Tesla Model S Tesla Model X Solar Power Africa
  • Interview with Dr Nawal Al-Hosany

    Interview with Dr Nawal Al-Hosany
  • Interview with Gro Brundtland

    Gro Brundtland
  • Interview with President of Iceland

    President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
  • Interview with Nick Sampson

    Faraday Future VP Nick Sampson
  • Interview with Dipal Barua

    Dipal Barua 1st ZFEP WInner
  • Interview with Jonathon Porritt

    Jonathon Porritt
  • Interview with Clint Wilder

    Interview with Clint Wilder
  • Interviews with Solar Impulse Pilots

    Bertrand Piccard Andre Borschberg
  • Check out more CleanTechnica Videos.

  • Join The Solar Revolution!

    Edison-solar-energy solar-energy-spill-nice-day
  • Cost of Solar Panels

  • Search the IM Network