Developers estimate that 54% of the 54.5 gigawatts (GW) of new utility-scale electric-generating capacity added to the U.S. power grid this year will be solar power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory.
However, the surging growth of renewable energy installations in recent years has also led to a significant increase in the number of grid-interconnection requests, subsequently overwhelming the capacity of utilities to process and approve these requests in a timely manner. With the country urgently needing to accelerate renewable energy deployments, the government is taking new steps to expedite the federal permitting process.
In the meantime, utility-scale project developers and engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) firms must ensure they’re mitigating risks during installations to avoid the potential for delays that could disrupt a project’s commissioning queue.
What Is Stalling Interconnection Commissioning?
The rise in renewable energy installations has exacerbated some of the larger problems in the utility grid interconnection commissioning, which include a combination of factors.
The interconnection commissioning approval process is complex, time-consuming, and resource-intensive, involving a range of technical, regulatory, and financial requirements that must be met before a renewable energy system can be connected to the grid. This includes reviewing the design and technical specifications of the system, assessing its impact on grid stability and reliability, and determining the appropriate compensation and rate structure for the energy generated.
Further complicating matters is a lack of standardized processes and procedures for interconnection commissioning across different utilities and regions. This patchwork permitting landscape has led to inconsistencies and delays in the approval process since many utilities have different interconnection criteria, requirements, and timelines.
There is also a shortage of skilled personnel and resources to manage the interconnection commissioning process. This is particularly true for smaller utilities and rural areas, where there may be limited staff and expertise to handle the growing number of interconnection requests.
Addressing these issues will require a coordinated effort from utilities, regulators, and industry stakeholders to streamline the interconnection process, improve transparency and consistency, and build capacity and expertise in the workforce.
MOU to Improve Transmission Infrastructure
As one of the major obstacles blocking the country from unleashing more solar power generation, there have been growing calls from the energy industry to address the antiquated and over-stressed permitting process for siting new renewable energy projects.
In an effort to combat the sluggish federal permitting process for renewable energy siting, the White House recently established a new interagency Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to “facilitate the timely, responsible, and equitable permitting of electric transmission infrastructure.”
The administration’s objectives for permitting reform include:
accelerating deployment of critical electric transmission
accelerating energy project permitting on federal lands
modernizing America’s 150-year-old mining laws and responsibly developing domestic critical minerals
incentivizing redevelopment for clean energy deployment
Its recommendations to streamline the permitting process include:
improving permitting efficiency and predictability
enhancing data collection needed for effective permitting
cutting duplicative and burdensome analysis and reviews
improving community engagement
addressing gaps in the permitting workforce
establishing clearer requirements for mitigating environmental harms
incentivizing state and local permitting reform and standardization
This MOU represents a good starting point for reforming the process by providing new financing and regulatory tools, improved coordination among federal agencies and transmission developers, and more defined milestones and deadlines for decisions. But it will still take time before its effects are felt.
Mitigating Risks During Utility-Scale Solar Development
While the country continues reinforcing transmission infrastructure and implementing new reforms to expedite the time-consuming permitting process, utility-scale EPCs and developers will need every tool at their disposal to ensure projects remain on schedule. A disruption during installation, such as incompatible BOS components or a lack of module supply, can potentially delay a project’s original completion and make it miss its commissioning date.
The TrinaPro utility-scale solar solution provides EPCs and developers with the streamlined procurement, optimized interoperability, and seamless installation necessary to keep a project on track, avoiding the disruptions and delays that could potentially derail its interconnection timeline.
Looking for a solution to mitigate procurement and installation risks for utility-scale solar projects? Reach out to us today.
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