On June 8, the US Department of Energy (DOE) launched the i2X initiative to address the country’s massive interconnection problem which oversaw 1.4 TW of bulk power and storage, including 700 GW of solar PV, sitting in elongated interconnection queues.
Unleashing this power in a timely manner would propel the United States toward its goal of producing 80% of its electricity from clean sources by 2030, thereby reducing emissions, and boost investor and developer confidence in a context of increasing project abandonment rates.
Essentially, i2X is a stakeholder assembly and engagement project that seeks to bring together key players in the interconnect space to find workable solutions to the US interconnect problem. Stakeholders will include grid operators, utilities, clean energy developers, national research labs and more.
Premium PV Technology spoke with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), a key project partner responsible for designing a five-year roadmap and providing technical assistance to partners, about the project to further clarify key challenges facing the system. American interconnection is facing.
Transparency and standardization of data
The i2X program will emphasize data transparency and standardization, issues that have hampered faster interconnection for years. Joseph Rand, LBNL’s senior science engineering partner on the project, said the lack of transparent data on interconnect queues and network upgrade costs across regions has been a major impediment to progress. .
Rand said the data is often not public and the initiative would encourage the sharing of certain data — that which is not sensitive or important to national security — by RTOs and ISOs. This would support project deployment and help reverse the trend of abandonment and non-construction of proposed capacity by providing developers with more accurate and up-to-date information on potential costs.
A recent LBNL study found that, among a subset of queues for which data is available, only 23% of projects seeking a connection from 2000 to 2016 were subsequently built, and the percentages of completion were down, especially for wind and solar compared to other resources.
“A quick example [of better data sharing] would be the upgrade cost that developers are allocated or assigned in order to interconnect,” says Rand. “It is really important to understand whether these costs for developers [are] increasing over time. »
“Are they much higher in some regions than in others? Are they higher at certain points in their network? Are they higher for certain types of generators [than others]?,” he asks.
But that data is very difficult to access, says Rand. “We are currently running a project, trying to collect this data, but it requires a ton of manual effort, non-disclosure agreements and various types of confidentiality agreements.”
Asked by PV technology whether ISOs and RTOs would be willing to share this data more freely, Rand said it was unclear given that there were already mandates for them to do so, but the rules were not always applied correctly, suggesting that FERC may decide to intervene with new regulations surrounding data exchange.
“I think there is an opportunity [for FERC] to play a role and demand that this data be made public or available to certain entities or researchers,” says Rand.
Additionally, he said there was a need for this data to be shared by disparate entities in a more accessible, timely and standardized way.
This is because RTOs and ISOs often compile and structure their data in different ways, making it harder to make comparisons across regions. Thus, i2X will also encourage these entities to standardize their data sets in order to facilitate a greater exchange of information.
Rand says the i2X project should focus on how long it takes for projects to move through the various stages of the interconnect system, “ensuring that all of these entities provide, for each project going through the queue, the date to which they obtained at each of the stages.
“We collect this data wherever it’s available,” he says, “but in some cases we do these numbers and we only have five entities out of the 42 that we collect data for. Some incremental progress is totally doable and we may need FERC to step in and demand that certain things be shared in a certain way.
A roadmap for the future
The i2X initiative will also establish a “strategic roadmap” for the future that will “inform improvements to the interconnection process,” which will be led by the LBNL as well as the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
“We have what’s called a technical work plan, which is a document that we’ve put together over the last few months to outline exactly what we plan to do,” Rand says, adding that almost a third of the budget of the first year of 3 USD million are provided to LNBL to build this plan.
“That money is really focused on this mass fuel system or transmission scale problem,” Rand says, although some of it is directed to other activities.
Rand explains that although he engages with a range of stakeholders, FERC is the key player. “We want to have regular briefings with FERC and ideally a commitment from FERC.”
Since there are certain rules regarding what FERC can share with and request from LBNL, the research lab must also plan for the analysis that FERC needs to establish appropriate regulations.
“What we do best is analytics,” says Rand, “and we hope to continue to provide prompt technical assistance and analytical support to FERC and other game stakeholders as well.”
PV technology will examine the i2X initiative in greater depth, including talking with the DOE solar team, developers and other stakeholders, in the next edition of PV technological power, our quarterly print publication due out in August.