When Opower released its fifth-generation software for utilities earlier this year, CEO Dan Yates said the company would soon pursue distributed generation along with efficiency.
"This is rippling across the country, and we don't think it's fair to cut utilities out from saving themselves against the competition,” he said.
At the time, Yates was not specific about what the offering might look like, but he said Opower would use its behavioral science techniques to target customers and help utilities sell solar services or other forms of distributed generation.
In an interview with Greentech Media at the Grid Edge Live conference on Tuesday, Yates described a possible strategy. Although the company has not yet solidified any specific solar offerings, Yates said he was interested in using Opower’s “customer care automation” platform to help utilities sell shares in community solar programs and run the billing process.
“We’re looking at ways of pursuing the management of community solar,” he said.
Yates stressed that Opower had not closed any deals or developed a targeted strategy to run community solar, but said he was "having conversations" with utilities about being involved in the process. He pointed to the emergence of community-scale solar in Colorado and other states as a way for power companies to offer customers an equity stake in solar projects while potentially avoiding net metering.
"We're looking at ways to get beyond the conflicts over net metering," said Yates.
The level of detail was similar to Yates' previous comments in February, when he said Opower was "having conversations with lots of utilities about how they can play in distributed generation." But the expressed desire to help facilitate community solar programs is new.
Opower's goal, said Yates, is to help power companies better interact with customers. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if that interaction revolves around efficiency, demand response or distributed generation. "We have an opportunity to be the utility’s innovative partner with respect to all things customer."
Community solar, which is still very nascent and comes in a variety of different forms, is only one possible pathway for Opower. While Yates said be believes the company is uniquely positioned to manage the customer-related infrastructure for shared solar projects, he also talked about individual projects.
"Utilities have to be able to move with their regulators toward a world where they can offer distributed generation, whether it be community solar or rooftop solar," said Yates. "That’s the whole panoply of offerings we see coming down the pike."
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are more than 50 community solar projects in seventeen states, with another ten considering policies promoting shared projects.