Want an IRA-driven solar boom? Fix interconnection now

A Standard Solar project in Illinois (Courtesy: Standard Solar)

Contributed by C.J. Colavito, VP of Engineering, Standard Solar; GridTECH Connect Forum Advisory Board Member

How will the solar industry meet the expected surge in solar-driven by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)?

The new infusion of incentives will provide an enormous boost for the industry, but it will not remove barriers to deployment like long interconnection queues. To take full advantage of the IRA incentives, we must also deal with these barriers.

By 2030, the $370 billion allocated in the IRA for climate and energy measures is expected to increase solar deployment fivefold and spur 550 GW of new renewable energy projects — many of which will be solar installations.

These numbers are impressive, and the industry welcomed the boost and policy certainty provided by the IRA.

But the $370 billion by itself, while helpful, is not enough to achieve the projected figures for solar growth. Now that we have policy certainty, we must focus on removing some significant barriers that stand in the way of increased solar deployment. 

Interconnection is one of the most tenacious of these barriers. Ironically, the IRA could even exacerbate this already significant challenge — unless we make a concerted effort now to fix the system.

SAVE THE DATE! The next edition of the GridTECH Connect Forum will be held in Newport, Rhode Island on Oct. 23-25. We’re bringing together developers, utilities, and regulators to take on the critical issue of DER interconnection in the Northeast. Save the date to be alerted as soon as registration is open. See you in Newport!

A foundation for interconnection reform

Fortunately, the technology we need to streamline interconnection is already available. What’s needed now is good policy at both the federal and state level to open up the current logjam. Interconnection policy should follow the principles of transparency, standardization, and automation. 

Transparency in interconnection is key. Developers need detailed, real-time load data, hosting capacity maps, and queue information to determine whether to enter the interconnection process. Timelines, processes, and costs must also be transparent. And for projects at the distribution system level, technical requirements and fees for infrastructure upgrades must be clear and reasonable.  

As much as possible, interconnection processes and fees should be standardized and automated. That should include predictable, reasonable, and firm timeframes, deadlines for interconnection studies, and rigorous enforcement.

A positive step that’s being taken at the federal level is the proposed rulemaking on interconnection from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which focuses on speeding up interconnection. If implemented, the proposal will facilitate the deployment of utility-scale projects across the U.S.

However, much more action is still needed at the state level for projects interconnected to the distribution system. We have the opportunity to make real progress for large-scale distributed generation projects between 1 MW and 20 MWac. That will allow distributed energy resources (DERs) to play a significant role in managing the grid and supporting the distribution system’s reliability — benefitting solar companies, utilit

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