June 29, 2023, 10:58 am . MRC
In April, we were pleased to welcome Sunnova Energy to the MRC. The company’s focus on developing innovative, affordable and clean microgrids to support the reliability and resilience needs of entire communities aligns perfectly with the MRC’s mission.
We sat down with them recently to get to know more about the role microgrids play in their business, what projects they’re excited about, short-term and long-term goals they’re aiming for, and so much more.
Sunnova is primarily known as a major solar developer. Can you elaborate on how microgrids fit into Sunnova’s business? (can be aspirational)
Sunnova Energy is a national leading solar and storage energy-as-a-service provider with a simple mission to empower energy independence. Sunnova helps make clean, renewable energy more accessible, reliable, and affordable by providing a better energy service at a better price. We believe microgrids provide a pathway to more fully realize energy independence through enabling customers to produce, consume, and manage their electricity throughout their homes while benefiting their neighbors and communities.
Is there an upcoming microgrid project(s) Sunnova is excited about? Can you tell us more about it/them? (if can’t speak to future projects, discuss prior projects)
In September 2022, Sunnova created a new legal entity, Sunnova Community Microgrids California, to construct and design distribution infrastructure and utilize nanogrids to manage communities. Sunnova Community Microgrids California submitted an application to the CPUC for a certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) to construct and operate a micro-utility and compete directly with investor-owned utilities by providing competitively priced reliable energy. This approach was novel and presented itself as a mechanism to establish broad commercialization of residential community microgrids.
Sunnova is actively working on campus solutions that allow residents to benefit from shared solar and battery energy storage.
Across Sunnova’s residential fleet, approximately 35% of our customers have storage and the ability to island from the grid. Sunnova Adaptive Home™ is our in-house software solution that enables nanogrids to maintain island mode through optimization of loads connected to our systems such as EV chargers and load controls.
What are some short-term goals of the company? Longer-term?
Sunnova’s immediate goals are to provide customers with a better service than they receive from their traditional utility. Sunnova has multiple microgrid models that are being pursued based on location and current regulations to provide this service to our customers. Across the country, utility customers experience nearly 7 hours of outage per year including major events. The community microgrid model Sunnova presented to the CPUC targeted a 30-minute response with up to 300 hours of continuous run time.
Longer-term goals are aimed at bringing competition to the energy industry and accelerating state and federal goals to decarbonize. Sunnova’s model for community microgrids presented to the CPUC produces >80% of the energy with local renewables. True competition can only be obtained when barriers for market participation within the energy industry are reduced and customers have the ability to choose who provides their energy services.
Do you see different opportunities for microgrids in different regions of the country and, if so, what can you tell us about various regions??
Current opportunities exist to develop microgrids for campuses, military installations, critical facilities, and remote communities but residential customers are unable to benefit from microgrids due to outdated regulations that were created prior to the development of modern technology. Various regions have opportunities for microgrids to benefit their residents despite a lack of a current pathway for commercialization of residential microgrids. Opportunities to benefit communities include safeguards against climate related events (ie. wildfires, hurricanes, floods, extreme temp.) ever increasing electricity rates, power interruptions, and grid failures. Microgrids represent an alternative to utility billing structures, allowing customers to become stakeholders in the neighborhood distribution infrastructure and exchange energy. These microgrids can also provide grid services and potentially even supply energy to the grid.
With respect to policy and regulation, can you highlight what you perceive as the areas most in need of change and/or opportunities for advancing microgrids?
Based on current regulations across the country, specifically in California, there is not a clear pathway for residential microgrids that cross more than one property line to be developed, owned, and operated by third party service providers. This is the single biggest barrier for microgrid deployment nationwide.
The company filed an application earlier this year in CA seeking “microutility” status in conjunction with several planned community microgrids. Unfortunately, the CPUC dismissed that application but the proceeding received significant attention both in CA and nationally. Can you give some additional insight into the company’s interest in community microgrids? And what can you tell us about plans to continue your advocacy on this issue?
Building new communities within a microgrid with locally sited solar PV, storage and emergency generation lessens the impact on the grid and requires less energy, ancillary services, and capacity to be procured from the Independent System Operators or Regional Transmission Operators while at the same time increasing grid reliability and resiliency through abilities to provide ancillary services, support grid functions, and even supply energy. Continuing the effort to develop residential community microgrids, Sunnova has developed a business model based on a Microgrid Service Provider. Sunnova continues to engage in ongoing proceedings to promote microgrids as a means to developing greater resiliency, reliability, and affordability for customer’s energy services. Sunnova is specifically anticipating engaging directly with the CPUC on Track 4 Phase 2 Multi-Property Tariff of the OIR Regarding Microgrids Pursuant to SB 1339 and Resiliency Strategies (Rulemaking 19-09-009).
We are resolute in breaking down barriers to deploy third party community microgrids. Sunnova wants to provide consumers with energy choice that offers reliability and resiliency and implementing microgrid technology, especially for new homes, is critically important.
What makes MRC membership valuable to Sunnova?
Joining MRC provides Sunnova an opportunity to be a part of an organization that is solely focused on microgrid development. Working alongside industry experts within MRC enables Sunnova to increase its voice and be heard while advocating for microgrids across the country. Being a member of the MRC allows an opportunity to join together with industry members to share and leverage knowledge and advocacy resources. MRC increases the ability to engage in multiple markets due to the various regional specific working groups that assist in tracking and engaging in legislative or regulatory proceedings.