Distribution Grid Impacts of Community Solar
Community solar (CS) projects often face uncertain interconnection costs and fees associated with distribution grid infrastructure upgrades required to connect the project. These costs can determine the economic viability of a CS project, but they are difficult to assess. Cost uncertainty can discourage new projects and prevent communities from accessing the benefits of community solar projects. At the same time, CS deployment strategies hold potential to defer or avoid some distribution costs due to new loads.
To mitigate CS interconnection costs, it is important to find least-cost combinations of distribution system infrastructure solutions (transformer upgrades, reconductoring, voltage regulators, storage), and to understand how location of CS projects within a feeder impact distribution grid upgrade costs.
This study aims to quantify CS impacts on the distribution grid and provide policy and regulatory insights and CS deployment strategies to address them. It is the first analysis that has systematically studied the technical impacts of community solar projects on a wide range of distribution feeders using state-of-the-art optimization and power flow tools.
The analysis employs Berkeley Lab’s novel Least-cost Optimal Distribution Grid Expansion (LODGE) model, a deterministic version of the REPAIR model, that optimally upgrades hundreds or even thousands of distribution circuits or feeders. This is the first application of the LODGE model. LODGE finds the least-cost portfolio of traditional distribution system upgrades to integrate CS in combination with alternative solutions, such as utility-owned storage and downsizing CS capacity. Working with a set of least-cost solutions per feeder allows us to benchmark, compare and find techno-economic trends in CS interconnection.