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Published on September 23rd, 2015 | by Tina Casey

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Brace Yourself For Same-Day Rooftop Solar, SolarCity Joins Race To Cut Costs

September 23rd, 2015 by  



Last week the US Energy Department tapped five teams to compete in the new SunShot “Race to 7-Day Solar” prize. The friendly competition is aimed at making rooftop solar installation faster and cheaper, like installing a new furnace or any other major appliance. It happens that one of the teams includes US solar giant SolarCity, which is chaired by Tesla CEO and chairman Elon Musk, and knowing our Elon it’s not a surprise to learn that his team intends to blow past the seven-day goal and get everything done in one day — or less.

One day rooftop solar

Heavy Hitters Line Up For Same-Day Rooftop Solar

A one-day installation seems downright incredible given today’s patchwork of permits and inspections, where the permitting process for rooftop solar systems can extend for weeks and even months. However, take a look the folks lined up with SolarCity on the teamed called “Northern and Central California SunShot Alliance” and you’ll see why they are confident that they can meet, or even beat, their self-imposed one day rooftop solar goal.

The team is spearheaded by the California utility PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric Company). PG&E is already deeply embedded in its home state’s renewable energy drive and claims that it has “helped customers connect more solar systems than any other utility in the country.” If you’re looking for numbers to back that up, last March the company summed up its solar record:

[PG&E] has reached a significant milestone by connecting the 150,000th solar customer to its electric grid. In addition, during 2014, the utility connected more rooftop solar customers to its grid than any other year in its history. More than 45,000 new solar customers were added in 2014 alone. During this time period, PG&E added approximately 326 MW of installed solar power – enough to power more than 70,000 homes.

On average, the company is connecting about 4,000 new solar customers per month across Northern and Central California, more than any other energy company in the nation. Approximately every 11 minutes, PG&E connects a new solar customer to its electric grid.

Okay, so there’s your connection experience. On the installation side, SolarCity needs no introduction if you know who Elon Musk is. SolarCity has already amassed an impressive record for rooftop solar installations. The company has also formed some interesting partnerships to motivate solar adoption and it is following the “gigafactory” model of sister company Tesla Motors with a foray into large scale solar module manufacturing.

Rounding out the team is a software company called Accela, which specializes in civic engagement platforms with a focus on speeding up cumbersome processes that fall under municipal jurisdiction, and another software company called Qado Energy. If Qado Energy doesn’t ring a bell. join the club, though the company did pop up on the CleanTechnica’s radar back in 2012 when it nailed a $500,000 slice out of a $10 million Energy Department grant for 10 solar startups. Qado was tasked to do this:

Qado is working to provide utilities and distributed generation developers a new decision support platform that enables them to quickly assess the technical impacts and commercial benefits of deploying distributed energy resources onto the grid.

Qado certainly didn’t let the grass grow under its feet. In 2014 it launched its proprietary GridUnity platform, a cloud-based system that uses a visualization interface to simplify advanced analytics for ease of use.

Back in 2014, Qado founder Brian Fitzsimons provided a description that hints at how Qado will interact with the rest of its team:

The future of achieving an efficient energy supply in the United States is in bringing together skill sets that are currently siloed within utilities with those of external stakeholders. Engineers who understand the grid need to be working with team members who understand the economic future of the grid…

…The current approach is too expensive – we need a holistic approach to incentivize utilities to adapt. If Qado is successful, utilities and their partners around the world will cost effectively evolve distributed grids to reliably accommodate high penetrations of renewables, storage, and other technologies.

Also helping the team along toward the one-day goal is its choice of venue. The team will focus like a laser on Livermore, California, which is already a leader in per capital rooftop solar thanks in part to its relatively speedy permit process.

Fierce Competition For 7-Day Rooftop Solar

To paraphrase the great Satchel Paige, our featured team better not look back, something might be gaining on them. The other four teams in the Race to 7-Day Solar are no slouches, either.

Sunrun: This team consists of Sunrun, a  familiar name around the CleanTechnica table, that bills itself as “the largest dedicated residential solar company in the US.” The company will leverage its proprietary BrightPath end-to-end workflow system for the solar industry, which it just rolled out last year. BrightPath has some serious cred behind it, including $1.6 million in development funding from the Energy Department.

The Solar Auditor: This one looks interesting. The Solar Auditor is a solar shopping guide that helps consumers make informed decisions when choosing a solar installer. The company has assembled a huge team to meet the seven-day goal including a financial adviser and a home inspector as well as a raft of solar installers and other partners.

Connecticut Permit to Plug-in: This collaborative effort pairs several Connecticut municipalities with Connecticut Green Bank, investor-owned utilities, and solar contractors. Connecticut has acquired a solar-unfriendly reputation partly due to cumbersome permitting processes, so even if the team falls short of the seven-day goal it could still have a significant impact on rooftop solar sales in the state.

Midwestern Solar: This team will focus on the southeast Missouri municipalities of Poplar Bluff, Kennett, Malden, Doniphan, Columbia, and Farmington, in partnership with the Poplar Bluff and Ozark Border Electric Cooperative. As with Connecticut, Missouri is not currently among the country’s solar front runners, so anything the team can do to speed things up will count as a win.

Make That A Slugfest To 7-Day Solar

This is supposed to be a friendly competition but fireworks have already broken out between Sunrun and the Northern and Central California SunShot Alliance. Earlier this week, Sunrun called into question PG&E’s commitment to a competitive rooftop solar market under a forthcoming change in California’s net metering rules, among other issues.

No comeback yet from PG&E, so stay tuned on that.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The Race to 7-Day solar starts now and keeps going until March of 2017, with the winner to be announced in June 2017. The Obama Administration has also just pumped another $102 million into other cost-cutting solar projects, so it looks like solar energy is set to continue competing with fossil energy despite the ongoing slump in petroleum, coal, and natural gas.

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Image (cropped): via SolarCity blog. 
 





 

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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