4-12-2015 Solar Interconnection: What You Need to Know
You’ve made the decision to go solar, and you’re ready to start reaping the benefits that comes with owning a rooftop system. Your utility has generous net metering policies, and you’re expecting to save a bundle on electricity rates. There’s one crucial step in the installation process that needs to be completed before you can sit back and enjoy your solar system: interconnection.
What is interconnection?
It’s the process of getting permission to connect a power system (or generator) to the electric grid. Usually this happens when customers want to connect their PV rooftop solar system to the grid. However, it can also happen when the utility needs to connect to a customer’s home.
In order to connect to the grid, most utilities require that the solar system use the proper inverter. Many utilities have their interconnection requirements listed online. If you can’t find your utilities’ interconnection guidelines, be sure to call them and ask for a copy.
The major benefit of interconnection is it makes it possible for homeowners’ PV systems to unload extra power to the grid. In places where net metering exists, this can translate into extra savings for homeowners.
Who performs the interconnection?
If you’re working with an independent solar installer, he should take care of the physical part of the interconnection. He should also help you submit an interconnection application to your utility company and schedule the necessary inspections after your application has been processed.
If you’re working with a larger company, you may work with an employee who specialized in interconnection. He should also take care of process for you.
How long does it take for the utility company to process interconnection applications?
The time it takes for utilities to process interconnection requests vary. The largest factor in determining the time frame for processing requests is the number of applications the company is already handling. Keep in mind that the solar market is highly concentrated. 78% of solar interconnection applications are processed by fewer than 5% of utilities.
Despite this statistic, the average wait time for interconnection completion (from submitting the application to utility approval) is about four weeks. If your utility has fewer applications to process, you may not have to wait that long. Some utilities can process interconnection requests in as little as two weeks.
However, if your utility is swamped with requests, you may have to wait eight or more weeks to receive final approval.
How are the interconnection applications processed?
83% of interconnection applications must be filled out by hand. Only 17% of the applications can be filled out online. Not surprisingly, almost 60% of the online applications were processed in less than two weeks. Of the applications completed by hand, most of them took more than four weeks to process.
Utilities are Working to Overcome Interconnection Challenges
A US Department of Energy report about interconnection, Distributed Solar Interconnection Challenges and Best Practices, shows that there is room for improvement throughout the process. However, the most pressing issue for customers is application process transparency. Not knowing the status of their application is often frustrating for customers.
Utilities are aware of the problems they face, from slow processing time to unclear interconnection standards. As solar becomes more popular, utilities should be able to figure out a streamlined system for interconnection processing.