Distributed Energy Industry Maturing, SunSpec Alliance Keeps Pace

June 1, 2016. After nearly a decade of sporadic and often meteoric growth, the Distributed Energy industry is maturing while continuing to expand at a rate far greater than other sectors of the economy. Fortunately, the SunSpec Alliance has been maturing at a similar pace. Let’s take stock of the progress:

Investment After a decade of activity, investors are acquainted with the solar asset class and are “getting comfortable” with the commodity. They understand the different business models (e.g. commercial demand management, residential PPA, merchant power plant). They appreciate the subtleties of the risks and want to dig in.

SunSpec Alliance looked into the details and has taken a leadership position in exposing risks. Our oSPARC program of years past evolved into a new cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to develop open Solar Data eXchange (oSDX™) interchange standards. This exciting program will lead to new SunSpec Specifications for five lifecycle categories. We encourage you to participate.

Grid Operations The concept of “dispatchability” has been internalized by DER system architects and batteries can now be included! The SunSpec Work Groups is bearing fruit and SunSpec Specifications for storage are coming to market. Come to an open member meeting at Intersolar EU in Munich or Intersolar US in San Francisco to learn the details.

Software & plant control technology has become strategic. Aggregators and utilities around the world are looking at ways Distributed Energy Resource (DER) systems endowed with the right control software and communication technology can be used to enhance grid operations. SunSpec Alliance is leading a project funded by California Energy Commission to demonstrate this capability with inverters supporting the California Rule 21 specified advanced functions. This program is a great point for inverter companies, fleet operators, and testing labs to engage with SunSpec.

Component Manufacturing   A long-term, industry-wide focus on manufacturing efficiency, combined with economies of scale, have yielded record-setting cost reductions for PV modules and inverters. As near-optimal costs for components have been achieved, the industry’s focus has shifted to value-added content enabled by Module-Level Power Electronics (MLPE). Integrated with PV modules, MLPE enables an array of applications including power optimization, arc-fault detection, asset tracking, theft detection, security, and safety.

With the experience of having developed the SunSpec Module specification, and with prodding by SunSpec Alliance Membership, SunSpec started the Communication Signal for Rapid Shutdown Specification workgroup in late 2015. This specification is designed to support the implementation of the Module-Level Rapid Shutdown requirements that were introduced into the U.S. National Electrical Code (NEC) 2017 edition and may be propagated globally.

Now in its seventh month of operation, the Rapid Shutdown workgroup has resulted in member engagement across product categories (PV modules, inverters, MLPE, semiconductors, safety equipment, testing, and software) and is about to deliver the first open draft of the specification. This is another thing you can learn at the open member meetings at Intersolar EU and Intersolar North America.

Plant Operations & Maintenance (O&M) Investors view long-term O&M as perhaps the key investment risk. Practitioners and service providers, on the other hand, view O&M as ripe for cost/benefit optimization, technical refinement, and standardization.

The SunSpec Alliance, by way of a collaborative agreement with the National Renewable Energy Laboratories and Sandia National Laboratories, is developing and O&M cost model for Distributed Energy portfolios and is helping to update national best practices. SunSpec has also aligned with Solar Power Europe to develop global best practices in this area.

In summary, the Distributed Energy industry is growing up quickly and so is the SunSpec Alliance. As the market matures, SunSpec Alliance tactics necessarily broaden to accommodate the technology challenges of the day. As a result of continuous innovation, the SunSpec Alliance, our specifications, and the SunSpec ecosystem are now being leveraged to unlock investment of billions of Dollars, Euros, and Yuan into the Distributed Energy economy. We look forward to continuing this journey with you.

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SunSpec Alliance is the information standards and certification organization for the Distributed Energy Resource (DER) industry. SunSpec communication standards address operational requirements of solar and energy storage on the smart grid.