NCCETC Joins Cliburn and Associates Team on a U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Innovation Program Project

The U.S. Department of Energy selected eight teams to participate in the second round of Solar Energy Innovation Network (SEIN), a program that supports multi-stakeholder teams pursuing new applications of solar energy and other distributed energy resources. The NC Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) is a partner of one of the newly selected teams – Cliburn and Associates, LLC – on the new Solar-Plus for Electric Co-ops (SPECs) project, which will help optimize the procurement and operations of battery storage projects at local electric cooperatives. The SPECs project is just beginning this spring, and it will run for about a year.

SPECs is an evolution of Cliburn and Associates’ work with electric co-ops and municipal utilities, especially related to the Community Solar Value Project (CSVP), according to Jill Cliburn, President of Cliburn and Associates, and Principal of SPECs. 

“That effort asked utilities to consider ways to make community solar a better “win-win” proposition, to benefit local utility operations as well as subscribing customers. Load flexibility and storage became top ways to boost community solar value,” Cliburn said. “Our partners and about a dozen other local utilities joined that collaboration, and along the way, we started a good relationship with the NCCETC. That led us here, to ask how can local utilities – and especially electric co-ops – get more out of battery storage, through innovations in planning, procurement and operations.”

NCCETC Policy Analyst David Sarkisian and previous NCCETC Senior Policy Analyst Achyut Shrestha previously worked with Cliburn and Associates through the Community Solar for the Southeast Project.

“This (SPECs) project appeared to be a natural extension of some of our community solar work,” Sarkisian said. “We have some experience with community solar project development in a region that was not otherwise represented in the project, and thought it could provide good materials to extend our work with utilities in the Southeast on community solar and storage projects.”

“NCCETC has a breadth of experience working with local utilities in the Southeast, and we quickly realized that it would be a strong partner for providing our ‘reality check’ in solving real, pressing co-op problems,” Cliburn said. “We also have been impressed with NCCETC for its technical capabilities, provided by staffers like David Sarkisian and Simon Sandler.”

Cliburn and Associates is joined by a number of other partners on this project, including Cobb Electric Membership Corp., Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, United Power, and more. 

“This project was in many ways, a true collaboration among the team members, including initially two of the co-ops that I knew had done ground-breaking work (United Power in Colorado and Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in New Mexico), plus contacts from NCCETC, who introduced us to Cobb EMC in Georgia,” Cliburn said.

Sarkisian said he plans to do some analysis of wholesale power contracts and what restrictions they place on allowable storage operations agreements.

Cliburn stated that so far they have started their best-practice research, looking at what co-ops and other utilities are doing, as well as innovative services that wholesale energy providers and vendors have to offer.

“We are shaping the project around questions that come up in the solar-plus-storage or storage-only procurement process, because that sets some boundaries for our work,” Cliburn said. “Storage is a very big topic – and knowing the relevant questions is a first step toward success.”

Virtual kick-off meetings took place in April with project partners.

“Nothing in our world is untouched by the COVID-19 crisis. We’ve been very appreciative of the folks at U.S. DOE, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which sponsors this project under SEIN, for pushing ahead despite the need to take a lot of our activities online,” Cliburn said. “The SEIN successfully completed Round 1 last year, and it continues to work with partners from Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, among other organizations, to adapt their successful ‘networking’ and crowd-sourced research methods to working under COVID-19 challenges. So far, we’ve found that our work – especially with NCCETC and Cobb EMC – can move pretty readily to a virtual workspace. We may even find it easier to reach out to a broader audience in this way.”

Learn more about the SPECs project here, and learn more about SEIN here. Utilities and community partners can find an array of resources on Cliburn and Associates website under the “Solutions” tab on their website.