There were capacity crowds of about 200 attendees each at solar and power storage sessions NRTC organized and led at the NRECA TechAdvantage conference last week in New Orleans. Interest in solar generation is growing among rural residents. And storage solutions are proving to be valuable tools for improving co-op efficiencies.
“Solar growth continues, and you can find multiple different projections, all with a very similar theme that the overall quantity of solar is growing,” said Brad Seibert, NRTC VP, Next-Generation Energy, who moderated both sessions. “And the prices keep dropping.”
The panel at the solar session described various lessons learned by cooperatives and vendors as they launched and operated new community-scale projects. Shannon Clark, CEO and GM, Richland Electric Cooperative, Richland Center, WI, described some of the some of the educational and PR steps he took to win members over to the benefits of solar.
Clark said that he wanted to have high levels of member visibility for the project to demonstrate that the cooperative was committed to it. The Richland Electric also put significant effort into explaining the subscription sales approach. It has sold 270 subscription so far. Rather than members installing solar panels on their roofs or being assigned a specific panel at the co-op solar generating facility, they made it clear that members were signing up for a renewable power service.
That was a difficult issue for some members who preferred to see and physically touch what they were buying. Richland was able to address the issue by allowing members to get an up-close feel for the technology. “We’ve put together what we call ‘The Learning Center’… a pole shed with a cement floor and a porta-potty. And we have really taken pretty good advantage of that,” Clark said. “We have [power storage demonstrations] in that building, we have solar with a 5-kw demonstration array there. We’ve held town meetings there; we’ve had a variety of school groups … It’s a place we knew people would want to come and see.”
During the later power storage session, Olaf Lohr, director of Business Development for battery manufacturer Sonnen, described the technology and its intended capabilities. Seibert said that “the general consensus was Sonnen batteries perform ‘as advertised,’ but that more data would be required to determine if widescale residential energy storage would become a viable demand response solution.” Battery prices are falling, “which is good,” but prices need to fall further to achieve overall parity with generators, he said.