The first day of Greentech Media’s Networked Solar conference asked more questions than it answered, but that’s not a bad thing. The two-day event, which examines the intersection of smart grid and distributed PV, kicked off with a larger look at the state of smart grid, and how it will help distributed renewable resources onto grid -- and quickly started asking some of the hard questions that will need to be answered for ambitious renewable portfolio standards to become a reality.

“Solar has evolved over the years but our energy policy has not changed," Katherine Hamilton, former President of GridWise Alliance, said during her opening keynote address.

She noted that without a price on carbon, a mix of creativity and vision could bring meaningful change by taking a close look at different departments, from the Department of Energy to the Department of Commerce for example, for ways to exploit initiatives that were already in place.

The first panel of the day looked at what a roadmap for solar and smart grid convergence might look like:

  • Standards, standards, standards. Without standards, for everything from communications to defining voltage or islanding, progress will be slow, said Gary Rackliffe, VP Smart Grids North America at ABB. The call for standards, as with other areas of smart grid, is loud and clear. Despite a piecemeal approach, Kevin Lynn, Acting Lead for Systems Integration for the Solar Energy Technologies Program at the Department of Energy said that with areas like California and New Jersey putting in a large amount of PV, communications protocols were emerge, potentially in less than three or four years.
  • Next Generation Inverters. Rackliffe also said that smart inverters, which could help absorb VARs and talk to storage, are going to be necessary.  He said that it would also ideally be able to get signals remotely so it could respond to inputs beyond its localized system. Joe DeLuca, VP Development & Product Management of Petra Solar, added that, besides the importance of being able to coordinate with storage, it will be mandatory for inverters to integrate with whatever communications platform the utility is using (hence the need for standards).
  • Less regulation, more risk. The regulation of utilities has to change, and sooner rather than later, if we’re really going to have a clean energy economy, according to Paul DeCotis, Vice President of Power Markets at Long Island Power Authority. A little deregulation will let utilities assume more risk and take more chances, and therefore bring technologies to the market faster, he said. He also sees a model where utilities own PV and then it is leased or borrowed through individuals or corporations.
  • Lower cost. Both DeCotis and Lynn said that lower cost, achieved not only through technology advancements, but also through changes in the tax structure, will be essential to higher penetration.