Bright Ideas: Solar Industry Group Courts Energy-Grid Innovation

With a blank slate as its defining metaphor, the Solar Electric Power Association's 51st State Initiative has drawn a variety of ideas from energy-industry innovators, all eyeing the possibility of breaking through industry limitations.

Back in October, the challenge the Solar Electric Power Association had for the energy industry was a bold one: Think broad.

Last week, SEPA shared the results of its 51st State Initiative, which gathered ideas on how the energy system could be designed “in a hypothetical 51st state with no existing regulations or market structures.” The crowdsourcing effort, simply put, was designed to get people to think about the potential of the energy grid, rather than its limitations.

“What is exciting about these papers and their authors is the broad and diverse range of perspectives and ideas they represent, which is exactly what SEPA hoped the 51st State Initiative would attract,” SEPA Communications Manager K Kaufman wrote in a blog post.

Responses to the challenge came from a wide variety of sources, including two fellow energy industry associations—the American Public Power Association (APPA) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). Other participants included corporations, public power companies, academic institutions, and even some individuals.

As Utility Dive notes, the levels of experimentation in the proposals varied. Some suggested treating solar energy like an appliance or imagining energy only being served through solar power. APPA and NRECA took a more conservative approach, suggesting that the current grid system generally works but could stand to see some improvement.

“Even so, the utility proposals recognize the need to alter regulatory and business models to compensate for the rapid rise of [distributed energy resources], especially rooftop solar, and ensure that all the new technologies on the grid are optimized to work together,” the website’s Gavin Bade wrote. “But in contrast to many of the proposals from grid reformers, these plans keep the electric utility firmly at the center of the distribution grid, and the electricity system generally.”

From here, SEPA has big plans for the 12 submitted papers. The group plans to host a series of live and online events to encourage discussion of the proposals. Ultimately, an independent panel will choose three to five of the papers for further exploration by the group.

“We are in the midst of a period of enormous change in energy and utility markets, and each state will be making its own decisions about the direction it wants to take, so many different ideas and models are going to be needed,” SEPA President and CEO Julia Hamm told Solar Power World.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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