Demand for community solar gardens is growing rapidly in Minnesota. But in order to fully develop a community solar market that works for all Minnesotans, we need to create a better system for connecting solar projects to the grid.
- Rather than looking at community solar garden proposals by county (as they’ve been reported until now), we sorted projects by where they would actually connect to the grid: individual electric substations.
- Examining each community solar garden by its grid location is a better way to evaluate the likelihood of projects completing the utility grid interconnection process and ultimately providing solar power to customers.
- By making information on efficient spots on the grid publicly available, we could greatly improve the process for solar business, utilities, and, most importantly, consumers.
The map below represents the proposed community solar gardens (orange circles) at each individual substation (black dots) – the larger the circle, the more total capacity being proposed at that substation. Think of this map as one half the equation: it visualizes where there are solar gardens proposed on the grid. The other half is knowing which spots on the grid have the most capacity to handle that demand.
Until recently, solar businesses essentially had neither. When Xcel Energy’s community solar program launched a little more than a year ago, it inspired an incredible amount of applications. Solar businesses were proposing projects based on where they thought there might be available capacity on the grid, but they had little to no information to actually know whether they were right.
This led to an incredible influx of solar garden proposals that were essentially hedges against one another. This meant solar businesses wasted resources creating far too many proposals for Xcel Energy to accommodate, wasting both the utility’s and the developers’ resources.
If our distribution system was more transparent, solar businesses could pursue projects near the “sweet spots” on a utility’s system that make the most sense for new energy generation. This would improve the interconnection process for businesses and utilities while creating a more efficient electric grid – saving consumers, businesses, and utilities money.
*The map in this post was created using data provided by the Minnesota Geospatial Information Office