Urban solar interconnection can be modernized, simplified and standardized

By TR Ludwig, CEO and Founder, Brooklyn SolarWorks and Colin Mattox, head of product marketing, ConnectDER

While solar has boomed in rural and suburban areas over the past decade, urban solar has lagged. It’s no mystery why. Urban solar comes with many challenges: taller, flatter, smaller roofs, more valuable real estate, tricky permits, and many others. Most of those challenges stem from the essential truth that density creates building and construction problems.

Finding solutions to these challenges and making urban solar energy holds tremendous promise. The benefits of building and placing solar where there is a demand for energy are enormous.

A recent study, the Local roadmap for solar energy, found that investing in local solar and energy storage and other distributed energy resource (DER) technologies — in schools, businesses, apartment buildings, and homes — could save us $473 billion in electricity bills between now and 2050. The researchers found that scaling up local solar is the most cost-effective way to meet our climate goals. It will also increase resilience as local communities and businesses face wildly different weather patterns – increased storm intensity, more devastating wildfires and longer and stronger hurricane seasons – as a result of the climate crisis.

This research corroborates years of research and data demonstrating the benefits of distributed energy sources and local power.

But how do we overcome these challenges and reap these benefits? The quick answer is that there isn’t one magic solution – instead, we need dozens of solutions. And solar installers have worked hard to develop those solutions, from awnings to communal sun gardens to micro-gratings and many innovations that have made urban solar more successful than ever.

Another important innovation is to modernize, standardize and simplify the coupling of new solar systems.

At present, many urban solar interconnections require significant amounts of additional electrical work. All that extra hookup and wiring equates to work, time, money, reduced security and more permits — and in urban solar, that extra cost and time can be prohibitive.

Currently, Con Edison, the utility company for New York City and Westchester County, is conducting a project utilizing meter collars from ConnectDER to standardize, modernize and simplify interconnection. Modern meter collars can accelerate the transition to urban solar as a standardized connection point for rooftop solar systems, helping installers avoid costly circuit breaker upgrades and time-consuming wiring. The meter collars also provide the data collection and computing power of a typical smart meter and the solar system of an individual home.

The solar installers disconnect the meter from the house, attach our meter collar, replace the meter and plug the power from the inverter directly into the meter collar. Due to the interconnection, the homeowner is offline for only five minutes instead of several hours for a typical installation. Easy for the installer, smooth for the customer and easy for the home.

This implementation project is being carried out in collaboration with NYSERDA. Right now, the units are free to installers and will provide valuable data, including forecasting solar production – enabling Con Edison to get accurate, real-time measurements of solar generation on distribution circuits that may be interrupted by the utility’s growing share of power. customers – solar property. This current effort follows a previous 300-unit pilot plant launched in 2017 that delivered savings of between $400 and $1,500 per plant.

All of these benefits — time, money, aesthetics, security, increased information sharing — can grow exponentially as cities adopt more DERs. Importantly, the benefits flow to all parties of the residential solar installation – the customers and installers save time and money. At the same time, utilities gain valuable information that helps them manage DERs more effectively.

Helping realize solar in the city holds a huge promise: billions in savings, millions of jobs and tons less pollution. Modern meter collars that simplify, modernize and standardize interconnection can be another important solution to meet the challenges of urban solar energy. This Con Edison project points the way to the urban solar future.

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